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Minnesota teen receives worldwide recognition for saving life at McDonald's drive-thru

From national news interviews to international fan mail, the family of 15-year-old Sydney Raley says her life has been forever changed.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Sydney Raley is back at work, serving up customers at the drive-through window at the Eden Prairie McDonald's. But now, the 15-year-old is aware that her actions at that window can have an international impact.

"Not even two weeks ago, no one noticed me," said Raley. "It feels surreal. It feels like, Peter Parker I guess you could say is a good reference."

Raley's quick journey to superhero status was one that came with global recognition. Just under two weeks go, on December 19, Raley noticed a customer choking on a chicken nugget outside her drive-through window. The teen literally jumped into action, springing through the window, alerting those nearby to call authorities, and performing the Heimlich maneuver with the help of another customer. When Eden Prairie Police arrived, they gave her $100 for the good deed.

After KARE 11 first shared Sydney's story December 20, national news outlets came calling.

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"The last week or so, it’s definitely been out of the norm," she said. "I’ve had to accept calls from interviewers from USA Today and the NY Post when I was in school, so I had to step out of classroom. I had kids coming up to me in the hall and saying, 'Hey, I saw you on the news!'"

Wednesday, Raley received a $250 check from Eden Prairie McDonald’s owner/operator Paul Ostergaard and a large, candy-filled goody basket from the corporate field office in Denver. Ostergaard read a note commending Raley for her bravery.

Credit: Stephanie Raley
Sydney Raley is recognized by Eden Prairie McDonald's store owner/operator Paul Ostergaard.

"Honestly it still feels like it’s a dream," said Raley, of the recognition. "I never thought that I’d be getting a letter from the corporate office in Denver, I never thought that I’d be getting a goody bag, and a check from the company. I thought I was just going to work here for a part time job and just get some cash, but this whole thing has spiraled into something that is truly amazing and I can’t thank people enough for it."

Credit: KARE 11
"Oh my gosh, thank you so much!" Sydney said, as she received her gifts.

Raley began receiving fan mail from across the US and even other countries. Wednesday, Ostergaard presented her with mail that had arrived at the store.

Raley's parents say this whirlwind of excitement is showing them just how much good there is in humanity.

"It has been so exciting for Sydney to receive all the accolades and recognition," said Sydney's mom, Stephanie. "But I think more importantly for our whole family to see all the kindness from strangers all across the world and the U.S., through comments on the videos, through cards that are coming in the mail and being delivered to the store, it’s just incredible and heartwarming to see how kind and generous people are."

Raley says she hopes her story can encourage more restaurants and workplaces in general to train their employees with Red Cross first aid training.

"I want to try and push for restaurants and general work facilities to get everyone Red Cross certified, so that in an emergency, people will know what to do, and this kind of story will be commonplace," she said.

She also wants everyone to know that, when trained properly, they're capable of stepping up to save the day like she did.

"It doesn’t matter what your gender is, it doesn’t matter what your race is, anyone is capable of helping everyone," she said. "In an emergency situation, it takes decent people who know what to do to step up."

Raley, who wants to be a character animator and artist, wants to use the reward money to start her own online shop where she will sell her art.

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