Three cadets having lunch at a Cupertino, California, restaurant sprang into action to save a choking elderly woman’s life March 4.
Cadet Capt. Samhita Srivatsan, Cadet 2nd Lt. Esme Chen, and Cadet Tech. Sgt. Maxim Manokhin, all members of the California Wing’s Jón E. Kramer Composite Squadron 10, were finishing their meal when one of the waitstaff came to their table to ask if anyone knew the Heimlich maneuver. Because they were seated in a far corner, the cadets were the second-to-last customers to be asked to help.
All three immediately rushed over to the emergency. The choking victim, a 78-year-old, was trapped in a dining booth. Her skin was already cold and pale and her lips blue, indicating loss of blood oxygen. She was surrounded by her frantic family – husband, son, and grandchildren.
The cadets were shocked at how severe the situation already was. “I remember thinking ‘please don’t let it be too late…please don’t let this be the day I see someone die,’” Srivatsan recalled.
Chen, who had completed her American Red Cross first aid/CPR/automated external defibrillator certification in February as part of Civil Air Patrol emergency services ground team training, started to draw on what she learned. She quickly assessed the scene for safety hazards while Srivatsan dialed 911.
The cadets took charge, assuring worried family members that Chen was first aid-certified. “We had to get the lady out of the booth first, but she was already unconscious,” Manokhin said.
They came together as a team to clear the area of tables and lower the woman out of the booth and to the ground. Srivatsan remained on the phone with 911 to provide critical information about the woman’s condition and ensure first responders were en route. She and Manokhin also managed the growing crowd and chaos to allow space for Chen to perform back blows and abdominal thrusts.
After several sets, the obstruction the woman had choked on was partially dislodged. She started wheezing and was able to breathe again.
Within five minutes, firefighters and paramedics arrived. The cadets continued to help by calming the shocked grandchildren.
“One of them told us she was 12 and the other was probably 8,” Srivatsan said “They were in tears when they hugged us.
“We were all so relieved.”
After being cleared by paramedics, the woman thanked the cadets. She told them she suffered from Parkinson’s disease, putting her at particularly high risk during the incident.
Restaurant staff said they were grateful and impressed by the teenagers who stepped up – the only ones among many patrons and staff who knew what to do and acted calmly and without hesitation.
An emergency room physician presented with the scenario and asked to comment said that since the patient already had discolored blue skin, was elderly, had a pre-existing neurological condition, and had to wait five minutes until paramedics arrived, “I have little doubt that those kids saved her life and saved her from possible brain damage. Good on them, more people should get training and be willing to act.”
1st Lt Kai E. Chen
Public Affairs Officer
Jon E. Kramer Composite Squadron 10