Brent Meldrum, 5, Puts the Squeeze on Playmate Tanya Branden, 6, and Winds Up Saving Her Life

updated 08/25/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/25/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Don't get 5-year-old Brent Meldrum wrong. He's glad he saved the life of playmate Tanya Branden, 6, with a Heimlich hug. But the little hero from Lynn, Mass. is growing weary of the attention he's been getting. "How come everybody is asking me all these stupid questions?" Brent asked reporters after receiving the city's Medal of Honor and facing the press—again. "I'm really getting sick of talking to people. I'd rather sit here and watch television."

That's not such a bad idea, considering that Brent was watching a rerun of TV's Benson when he first saw how the Heimlich maneuver is employed. Then, on Aug. 4, as Brent and Tanya played in the Meldrum living room, Tanya suddenly began choking on a piece of sugarless candy. The 45-pound boy quickly imitated the move he saw applied to Robert Guillaume on the show: Brent clasped his arms around 41-pound Tanya, who was turning blue, and started squeezing. His horrified mother, Susan, 28, told him to leave her alone. "No, Ma," Brent replied. "I saw what they did on Benson." He then "banged her feet down on the floor," he recalls, "and the candy popped out." Says Mom now: "Thank God he didn't listen to me."

The preschooler's actions have triggered an avalanche of awards, citations and gifts from around the country, including a letter from President Reagan. Even Dr. Henry Heimlich, the inventor of the lifesaving measure (Brent calls him "Dr. Timelock"), flew in from Cincinnati to congratulate the youngster. But Brent says the only true benefit of his sudden fame is the trip to Hollywood that he and his divorced mom took last week courtesy of ABC. There he was to meet Guillaume. "I had a dream I went to Benson's house, and now it's come true," beams Brent.

Susan and her son are looking forward to resuming their normal routine, which includes karate lessons. Currently unemployed, Susan plans to remarry and attend hairdressers' school this fall if she can take time away from squiring Brent to awards banquets and personal appearances. "I can't make a career out of it," she sighs. "I've got to get a job that pays." Brent now has a lifelong friend in the girl next door. But the result of the timely bear hug has its limits. Says Tanya: "He's my hero, but I never let him kiss me." It's okay if she does the honors.

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