Teacher’s death prompts tips to help choking victims
BY DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org May 14, 2013 4:54PM
On Sunday, the 28-year-old was with her brother at Wrigley Field when she met an untimely end choking on a hotdog, according to her family and authorities. | Supplied photo
Updated: June 16, 2013 6:09AM
It was called a freak accident. But the recent choking death of a 28-year-old Palos Heights middle school teacher at a Cubs game also is reason for everyone to refamiliarize themselves with some very important life-saving tactics.
“Unfortunately, the Wrigley Field incident is a reminder that we are not immune to choking incidents at any age,” said Dr. David Beckmann, a family medicine physician on staff at MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island.
Beckmann has seen 4-year-olds, as well as adults, including seniors, choke on food.
“Sometimes, when we’re excited and talking while eating, we inhale too quickly and food can get lodged in the throat,” he said. “It is rare but it can happen.”
Though Beckmann could not address the specifics in the case of Maureen Oleskiewicz, who died May 5 after choking on a hot dog during the national anthem at a Cubs game, he did offer advice for everyone.
“Know the universal sign for choking, which is hands around the throat,” he said. And know that there is no rule about seeking permission to help, he said.
If you start to choke, make the sign immediately. And if you see someone who either makes that sign or exhibits other signs that they may be choking, such as gasping, coughing, sweating or unable to speak, act immediately.
“Seconds count,” he said. People who are athletic or are in good shape may be able to go three minutes before passing out. Those who are less conditioned or who have health issues may lose a pulse within 30 seconds, he said.
While a person can choke on anything, typical culprits tend to be foods that are not easily chewed, such as nuts and fatty meats cut into big pieces.
If you suspect someone is choking, the first thing to do is apply the Heimlich maneuver. At the same time, order someone else to call 911.
To administer the maneuver, simply stand behind the victim, lean him forward, wrap your arms around his abdomen, make a fist with one hand, cup that fist with the other hand and administer quick thrusts in and up in a J-shaped movement.
If that does not work, issue back blows with the heel of your hand between the shoulder blades of the patient.
Keep working on the person until help arrives, he said.
If the patient loses a pulse and passes out, immediately switch to CPR.
“At this point, chest compressions are the most important thing to do,” Beckmann said.
If you are alone and start to choke, try to simulate the Heimlich maneuver with a corner or surface, anything that you can fall on and apply sudden abdominal pressure. The corner of a chair, for example, can be used, Beckmann said.
Always remember, he said, to chew food carefully, to not talk with your mouth full, to be aware of the signs of choking and to get help immediately.
There are no guarantees that doing everything right will save a person’s life, but you will increase the odds, Beckmann said.