PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — You’ve heard of the Heimlich maneuver, but could you do it if someone needed it?
Thankfully, one local man figured out how to do it when a patron was choking at the restaurant where he worked. And believe it or not, KDKA’s Kristine Sorensen has done it four times on her husband, former KDKA-TV reporter Marty Griffin.
But sadly, more than 5,000 people die every year from choking if there’s no one there to help quickly.
Steven McNeil learned life-saving skills as a volunteer firefighter, but before that training, he already saved a life. At the Lamplighter Restaurant in Delmont, where he was a busboy four years ago, he performed the Heimlich maneuver on a man choking on chicken noodle soup.
“I just went into autopilot. I’ve never given the Heimlich before ever in my life. I just went off what I saw on movies and stuff,” McNeil said.
After the man could breathe again, he realized what just happened.
“I actually went down to the bathroom and cried because I thank God that he put that moment in my life, this man’s life in my hands, and I was able to work and I was able to save him,” McNeil said.
Kristine Sorensen can relate to that feeling because she did the Heimlich on her husband in their kitchen five years ago. Kristine trained 10 years ago in a CPR class so she knew what to do. But Kristine also said that it didn’t hit her until after that Marty could have died with their kids in the other room and his parents sitting in the kitchen.
“It’s dramatic,” Marty said. “It’s pretty sketchy, pretty terrifying. Your mind races. You start to panic. (You think) ‘What can I do? What can I do? What can I do fast and who can help me?'”
Dr. Adam Tobias, an emergency medicine physician at UPMC, says without oxygen, someone choking can die in two to eight minutes.
“It’s very hard to stay alive in that situation, which is why it’s so important that a bystander knows how to do it. There’s not going to be time to wait for the paramedics or to get the patient to the hospital in a situation like this,” Dr. Tobias said.
Marty recently had a procedure to stretch his esophagus after he choked twice this summer at restaurants. Kristine did the Heimlich both times. Scar tissue had built up from the radiation to treat his throat cancer two years ago.
Dr. Tobias says even if you haven’t been trained in how to do the Heimlich, it’s worth trying.
“They’re going to die if you don’t do something, so there’s really no way to mess this up. Doing anything is better than doing nothing in this kind of situation,” the doctor said.
Since Marty got the procedure to stretch his esophagus, it’s been much easier to swallow. Both he and Kristine have much less anxiety about eating.
If you’d like to learn how to do the Heimlich maneuver, you can learn it in most CPR classes or you can watch a video online.