They say birds of a feather flock together. But some birds of a feather save each other's lives. It happened on July 4, when one asthmatic rescued another.

The savior was a Metro station manager named Gertrude Beck. The savee was an 11-year-old boy named Preston Toepke.

Preston has been asthmatic for many years. His last attack was at age 8, said his father, Timothy Toepke. But the disease can roar out of left field if given half a chance.

On July 4, it roared.

Preston and his family had just attended the fireworks display on the Mall. They were standing on a packed subway platform at L'Enfant Plaza, waiting for a train to take them home to Springfield.

Apparently the combination of crowds, heat, dust and fatigue took its toll. Preston said he felt ill. The family asked Gertrude to help. They couldn't have chosen better.

Gertrude has run the kiosk at the Seventh and D streets entrance to L'Enfant Plaza for 11 years. She took the family to an employees-only room, where she called 911. Meanwhile, she made Preston as comfortable as possible.

Because of the crush above ground and below, it took an hour for a D.C. ambulance crew to reach the sick boy. Breathing became progressively difficult for Preston. Recognizing the danger, Gertrude stepped up.

She had her own inhaler back in her kiosk, so she went and got it. "We're not supposed to give first aid," she later told me. But she pointed out that she's a mother and the grandmother of two asthmatics.

"Call it a mother's instinct," she said.

Preston took two puffs on Gertrude's inhaler. He felt better right away. A few minutes later, he took two more. Better still.

But the best news came about an hour later, when doctors at Children's Hospital examined Preston. They told Timothy Toepke that his son would have gone into cardiac arrest if Gertrude had not provided her inhaler.

Timothy said his son did not carry his own because it had been so long since his last attack. The family bought one the next day.

Gertrude has been asthmatic "since I was about 18." She carries an inhaler "because I never know when I might start wheezing."

She batted aside any attempts to place a halo on her head. "Hopefully, anyone in that situation would have done what I did," she said. "I just put myself in that child's place."

Yet Gertrude ran real risks. She didn't know if her inhaler would be appropriate for a child (any inhaler would be, doctors say). She knew she was violating Metro personnel rules and might lose her job. And what if Preston had been harmed by Gertrude's inhaler, or had died? She might have faced a titanic lawsuit.

But now, all she faces is eternal gratitude from the Toepkes. "I don't know how to thank her enough," Timothy said. Perhaps this column is a start.


Jennifer Lerner contributed $40 to our annual Send a Kid to Camp fund-raising campaign. She also contributed a way for donors to be fruitful and multiply.

"Before you send your check, ask a friend or two if they want to send one as well," Jennifer wrote. "Often, all people need is a reminder."

If you're a friend of Jennifer's, your course is clear. In any case, remember her words. It's a great way for a great gift to become even greater. As you can see below, we still need lots of greatness to meet our 1999 goal.

McCormick & Schmick's Seafood restaurants are outdoing themselves today -- and embarrassing Bob Levey.

Each Wednesday this summer, the restaurant designates one menu item for the benefit of Send a Kid to Camp. On June 23, the restaurant designated fried calamari.

Robert F. (for Fat) Levey proceeded to make an absolute pig of himself. He justified it by saying he was supporting needy kids. What he really supported was about three extra pounds when he finally arose from the table.

So now, McCormick & Schmick's has designated fried calamari again.

Thanks heaps, guys. I can see a whole week of starvation ahead, just to make up for what I will shovel down my hatch this afternoon.

I hope you'll shovel calamari today, too. Every cent you spend on it goes to our campaign. Calamari is available at the M&S Grill, 13th and F streets NW.

At the McCormick & Schmick's at Reston Town Center and 17th and K streets NW, today's camp item is grilled salmon roasted on a cedar plank with berry sauce.

Our goal by July 30: $550,000.

In hand as of July 8: $213,626.89.


Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.


Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S, or 5437, and follow instructions.