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The Night I Gave My Daughter the Heimlich

There’s no shortage of fear-mongering on the internet. Thousands of articles and blogs and interviews telling us of things that should terrify us. So many of those things are of no substance, no consequence, and of no value to you or anyone else.

That is not what this is.

This a warning about something that does happen — and happens often. If your child began to choke, would you know what to do? Not in a hypothetical sense. But would you really and truly know what to do, how to react, AND be able to stay calm? I hope the answer is yes. But for many of us? It’s probably no. Tonight, during an evening snack, I had to perform the Heimlich maneuver (or abdominal thrusts as they are often called) on my sweet, charming, and funny three year old daughter.

She and her big sister were eating Ritz crackers at the kitchen table. They were laughing and singing while I cleaned the living room and their dad put away laundry in the next room. My back was to the table as I listened to the chatter and the TV in the background. Suddenly, the table was quiet. I heard a ragged squeak across the room. It was this noise, the small amount of air that my daughter was able to force around the cracker before it completely occluded her airway, that tipped me off. I turned to see her round face turning deep red. Her eyes became huge, and her hands frantically clawed at the inside of her mouth as she tried to clear her throat.

In that moment, I reacted properly because I had been trained to do so in classes that prepared me for it. I snatched her out of the chair, knelt behind her, and thrusted upward with my fists on her tiny abdomen. The first thrust did not clear the obstruction. Instead, it caused her to gag. With the second movement, the half of a cracker popped out of her mouth, landing on the kitchen floor. She was stunned. When I asked if she was OK, she started crying while she caught her breath. The full gravity of the situation did not settle in until she was safely running across our living room a few minutes later. I kissed her tiny head fifty times before bed. And I thanked the Lord above for our night not ending on a much more tragic note.

I have a background in pediatric nursing. Additionally, I’ve with children in several other capacities. Because of this, I have been CPR certified every two years for the last fourteen years of my life. I know that this is more than the average parent will be trained in a CPR class. I also know that there is a huge difference between reading about preforming the life-saving action and actually practicing it on a dummy, in front of an instructor who can give you guidance.

Tonight? Every hour spent sitting in class and feeling a little silly while talking to a CPR dummy lying on a table became worth it a thousand times over. If you don’t work in a field that requires you to receive the certification, I can see how it isn’t something that ever makes it to your to-do list. But please, do not think that this would never happen to you. You meticulously cut up your child’s hotdogs and grapes? I do that as well. And tonight it was a cracker — a food that I would generally consider to be safe that could have taken my daughter’s life.

In 2011, choking was the fourth leading cause of death from unintentional injuries.

Although children under the age of four are at the greatest risk for choking, kids and adults are certainly not immune. It is important to know the steps to take when someone in the room with you begins choking, but just reading about isn’t enough. Below are some wonderful organizations where you can become CPR certified in the Nashville area. (CPR classes cover what to do in a choking emergency.) There are multiple types of CPR classes. Most of you reading this will need the BLS, or Basic Life Support class, but you can always call the company you choose to verify. Different professions require different levels of CPR certification, so always make sure to know which class to register for if you are becoming certified for your job.

Precious Hearts
CPR Nashville 
American Heart Association
Red Cross 
Here are some quick reference guides to print to have on hand. 

3 year old daughter heimlich

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One Response to The Night I Gave My Daughter the Heimlich

  1. Lori Eason January 27, 2018 at 4:22 pm #

    Great article! I am a friend of April Helm and saw this post on her facebook. I am a pediatric OT, and we just lost a 2 yr. old little girl because her parents did not know how to do the Heimlick and she was without oxygen for too long. Such an important thing to know.

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