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Custodian acts quickly when student chokes

Steve O’Connor performed Heimlich maneuver on Roessleville first-grader

Roessleville Elementary School Custodians Steve O'Connor (left) and Doug Hutton both saved someone's life thanks to basic emergency training.

Roessleville Elementary School Custodians Steve O'Connor (left) and Doug Hutton both saved someone's life thanks to basic emergency training. Photo by Zan Strumfeld.

— Last Wednesday seemed like just a typical day for Roessleville Elementary School Custodian Steve O’Connor. Students were packed into the school’s cafeteria, enjoying their food and talking with one another. O’Connor was dumping some of the lunchroom’s garbage when he noticed one of the first-graders jumping up and grabbing her throat.

“Her face was bright right. I ended up asking her if she was choking, and she shook her head ‘yes.’ So I gave her three pats on the back and that didn’t do any good,” O’Connor said.

With no time to panic, the 47-year-old quickly pulled the girl from the table and performed the Heimlich maneuver twice, until a nacho flew from her throat. Once she began gasping for air, O’Connor ran her down to the school nurse, who determined her lungs were clear.

“He saved her life. She was totally fine, unfazed by the whole experience,” school nurse Judy DeVaney said.

It only took a moment’s time for O’Connor to realize he needed to perform the Heimlich. All of the South Colonie Central School District’s custodians are CPR-certified each year and trained to handle basic emergency situations. O’Connor has been working at the elementary school for the past five years and never experienced an emergency quite like it before.

“I never thought I’d have to use it in a million years. It was very, very scary. It happened so fast. I’m not sure who was more panicked, her or me. But training took right over and you do what you go to do,” he said. “You can’t just let somebody sit there and choke.”

Coincidentally, the young girl had a loose tooth, which fell out while she at the nurse’s office. O’Connor said he spoke to the girl the following day, and she was back to her normal routine.

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