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Quick thinking saves student from choking

His teacher comes to the rescue just in the nick of time and dislodges the food from his windpipe.


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2000

In the eyes of many, Lucie Piermattei was already a hero when she stepped into her classroom at Deltona Elementary School on April 12. For the past two years, the special education teacher has earned high praise for her compassionate and caring attitude toward her students, many of whom struggle in the process of learning.

However, something happened that morning that turned the popular teacher into a lifesaver and created a bond with one student that surely will last a lifetime.

Michael Tell, 11, a student in Piermattei's class, was sitting in the back of the classroom eating his lunch with a group of fellow fourth-graders. After taking a bite of his ham and cheese sandwich, he suddenly lurched forward in his chair. Perhaps because he was known as someone who liked to kid around a lot, none of his friends thought much of the blank expression on Michael's face, or the fact that he was turning bright red.

Finally, someone yelled, "He's choking!" Piermattei, who was working with another group of students at the other end of the classroom, looked up to find the fourth-grader flailing about the room. With his windpipe blocked, his face had darkened to a blue-purple shade. He was nearly unconscious by the time she reached him.

"I didn't have time to think," Piermattei said. "I could tell he wasn't able to breathe, so I just grabbed him from behind."

With no formal training in the Heimlich maneuver, the teacher acted purely on instinct. Reaching around Michael's midsection, she gave a forceful squeeze, and then another one.

The second time was enough to dislodge the food from Michael's throat and free his airway.

While he had no lasting effects from the choking incident, it did give him a good fright, he said. The next day he thanked his teacher with a card and teddy bear.

"I don't know what would have happened if she hadn't been there," he said. "No one else knew how to help me."

Piermattei, who has never taken a basic lifesaving skills course, thinks the incident underscored the importance of having teachers trained in CPR and the Heimlich maneuver so that they may be able handle emergencies.

"When you are in a classroom all by yourself, you may not have time to wait before help arrives," said Piermattei, who plans to take a lifesaving skills course soon.

Meanwhile, she reflected on her gratitude for being able to think and act quickly to avert a disaster.

"I just thank God that it worked, and that it came to me to do it," she said. "I think we both learned from it."

* * *

NAME: Lucie Piermattei

AGE: 53

SCHOOL: Deltona Elementary School

HOBBIES: boating, gardening

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