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Friendship, preparation make it easier to breathe

Health: Staff member uses Heimlich maneuver to dislodge chips from boy’s throat at La Mesa Junior Hi

Posted: December 27, 2010 11:14 p.m.
Updated: December 28, 2010 4:55 a.m.

When Justin Gittens, 13, left, was choking at La Mesa Junior High School in Canyon Country earlier in the month, Claudia Ortiz, 14, center, and Jenny Escamilla, 14, took him to the office.

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It was just another lunch for a group of friends at La Mesa Junior High School in early December.

Eighth-graders Claudia Ortiz, 14, and Jenny Escamilla, 14, were waiting for their friends to finish their lunches so they could watch them play basketball.

But one of them, Justin Gittens, 13, was acting strangely as he finished his nachos.

“I thought he was just playing around,” Ortiz said.

But the teens realized Justin was choking.

“I was scared,” recalled Justin, an eighth-grader at the Canyon Country school. “I thought I was going to die.”

Surrounded by his friends, Justin tried coughing to dislodge the chips in his throat. He tried drinking water. But nothing was working.

Jenny and Claudia tried to calm Justin down as they brought him to the school’s main office, where Health Assistant Roberta Benavidez was treating a student who had low blood sugar.

She immediately shifted her attention to Justin, who had already begun to panic as he gasped for air. She soon began the Heimlich maneuver, thrusting into his chest about six times.

“I just told him I know what I’m doing,” she said. In a matter of seconds, the chips were out and Justin was feeling much better.

“It felt like there was a cut in my throat,” he said.

Benavidez credits her first aid and CPR training — a requirement for all health assistants — for her ability to come to Justin’s aid.

She said she’s even thankful that her 13-year-old son is a Boy Scout because one of his merit badges was knowing and understanding first aid, something Benavidez helped teach him.

“If they hadn’t (brought Justin in), he could have very well been unconscious out there,” she said.

The choking incident served as a definite change of pace for Benavidez. She usually treats an average of 30 students a day, many of whom have been stung by bees, injured in physical education classes or are having asthma attacks, she said.

Benavidez has been a health assistant for about two months after serving six years as a receptionist at Golden Valley High School, she said.

She recommends that everyone go through first aid and CPR training, even if the person isn’t a health assistant.

“To me, you don’t get enough training,” she said. “You have to be curious and figure out how you can do better.”

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