Natalie Drugan’s 4-year-old twin boys, pictured, were both victims of choking within four days of each other. Island superheroes saved their lives. Photo courtesy of Natalie Drugan

Mercer Island superheroes save twin boys with Heimlich maneuver | Guest Column

  • Monday, July 24, 2017 4:27pm
  • Opinion

My 4-year-old, identical twin boys obsess over superheroes. They take turns playing the superhero and the person in need of help. Never did we predict their role-playing would come to life.

During our summer stay in Mercer Island, we nearly lost both of our boys in one week to two separate food-choking incidences. According to the National Safety Council, choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional injury death.

Our summer fun took a sharp downturn during a lunch visit to a farm restaurant. As I walked three steps from our table to get a utensil, one of my sons pulled a sliced tomato off of my veggie burger and began eating it. In the blink of an eye, he started to choke. I tried to remove the tomato hanging from his mouth; it didn’t help. I hit him on the back as I had read in child safety guides; it didn’t work. In shear panic, I screamed, “SOMEBODY HELP ME!” His airway was clearly blocked.

Lisa Noble, a courageous mom, heard my scream from another table and came to our rescue. Without hesitation, Lisa grabbed my son and performed the Heimlich maneuver, which forced him to throw up. He could breathe! I dropped down, face in my hands and sobbed.

Just four days later, we were eating at a coffee shop. My other son was standing and chewing on a carrot; I instructed him to sit down and take small bites. A few minutes later, he pointed to his mouth; he then spit out his food, coughed and — no! This was not happening again. Yes, he was choking! I immediately hit my son on the back, performed the Heimlich maneuver unsuccessfully and frantically screamed, “Help me!” My son became unconscious. A crowd circled me, a teenage girl dialed 911, then someone took my son into his arms.

That someone was Dr. Michael Brooks, a psychiatrist, who quickly performed the Heimlich maneuver on my son. His action released a distressed wail from my son, which alarmed and shocked me. But soon after I realized my son was breathing again, I felt deep gratitude. Once again, I sobbed. When I reached out to Dr. Brooks, he said: “I was just in the right place at the right time. Glory to the Holy Trinity.”

Fire Lt. Trever Kissel and firefighters Kent Bastrom and Mark Givens arrived from the Mercer Island fire station. They checked my son’s vitals, comforted us and directed us to a local emergency room. Later that evening, Lt. Kissel called to check on my son. I shared his good condition and my gratefulness as well as my helplessness that this could happen to both of my sons. He offered wise advice: “You can be an advocate for choking and get people into the fire station to take life-saving classes.”

Our scary stories had happy endings due to citizen superheroes. “Thank you” to them will never be enough. But, raising awareness will bring to light their kind and honorable acts and hopefully help save future lives.

Contact your local fire department, American Red Cross or American Heart Association and sign up to take a life-saving first-aid and CPR class. Please advise child caretakers, babysitters and close family members to get certifications as well.

Additionally, please note these choking prevention tips:

• Common choking foods include raw vegetables, grapes, hot dogs, meat and cheese chunks, popcorn, nuts, thick peanut butter, marshmallows, small candies and gum

• Cut food into bite-size pieces and encourage slow eating, while sitting down

My twins now know that real life superheroes exist; these heroes are not clothed in capes and masks. Instead, these heroes are everyday people with enormous hearts who rise to the occasion when there is a call for help.

Don’t Delay. Take a life-saving class. Be a superhero.

Natalie Drugan is a mom of twins, certified nutrition health coach, clean food and sustainability advocate, digital marketer, blogger, writer, speaker and marathon runner who lives in Austin, Texas.

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