Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Wake up, lawmakers

School gets A for saving child's life


Evan Duckworth, 12, eats like a typical boy in a hurry.

He doesn't always chew his food completely. And when it's lunch time, he's eager to get outside before classes resume.

Last Thursday, Evan tried the beef tips on the school menu. He says now that he ate too fast and chewed too little.

He started choking and threw up. Then he couldn't breathe or even make a sound.

The bright little boy stood on a cafeteria bench and held up his hands to get attention.

"At first, all the lunch ladies came up and told me to keep trying to get it out," he says. "They patted me on the back, and it helped a little."

But it didn't help him breathe.

"I was scared. I was thinking I might die."

Willa DiMuzio, the cafeteria director, was in the kitchen when she heard the commotion. She almost didn't recognize the boy she'd known since he was in first grade.

"His face was bright red. He was choking. His eyes were huge," she says.

A breath of chance

DiMuzio, a cafeteria worker for 22 years, is a former emergency medical technician.

Three times, she tried the Heimlich maneuver. She stood behind Evan, grabbed him around his waist, above his belly button, and quickly pulled her arms inward and upward.

The maneuver seemed unsuccessful at first. But DiMuzio was patient and waited.

Suddenly Evan threw up some of the meat and could breathe.

But he wasn't out of danger. Evan still couldn't swallow.

The school called his mother, Tracy Duckworth, who is a nurse at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. They sent Evan there. Doctors at Children's operated and removed the remaining meat.

The next day, Tracy Duckworth gave DiMuzio a flower bouquet. And she gave the school, Blessed Sacrament in Fort Mitchell, an A for effort.

But Tracy says she wishes more schools were as prepared for such emergencies.

Blessed Sacrament teaches eighth-graders a Red Cross course that includes the Heimlich maneuver, which was pioneered by Cincinnati physician Henry J. Heimlich. There also are posters in the cafeteria illustrating the move.

Pat Weiland, the school's physical education teacher, is a certified Red Cross instructor. She has helped other teachers, principals and coaches there get trained.

All schools, Weiland says, should have an adult on each level or wing trained in emergency procedures. But because schools aren't required to, many don't think of it, she says.

Rethink proposal

Just one trained person can make all the difference.

In March, a third-grader in Midwest City, Okla., saved a choking classmate. Her school had just taught students the Heimlich maneuver after a child choked to death at another area school.

Last month, a Port St. Lucie, Fla., school resource officer saved a seventh-grader choking on a potato chip.

Last year, a 5-year-old Cleveland boy choked on a meatball, but no one in the cafeteria knew the procedure. When emergency crews arrived, he was blue.

He lived but suffered brain damage.

His father, James Cunningham, testified before the Ohio House Education Committee in favor of a bill that would have required public and private schools to employ at least one cafeteria employee on duty who is trained in the Heimlich maneuver.

Some state legislators supported it. But others, mindful of tightening budgets, saw the bill as an unfunded mandate on schools. It failed.

Surely this measure deserves to be resuscitated. We can't put cost concerns above what may be a child's last breath.

E-mail or call 768-8395.

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