Lt. Col. Carleton W. Jones
Boston Cadet Squadron
A 16-year-old saving a choking younger brother is impressive enough. Doing so was just the start, though, for Cadet Master Sgt. Joshua Ortiz, who repeated his feat an hour later with his other younger brother.
Ortiz, a member of the Massachusetts Wing’s Boston Composite Squadron, called March 13 “the absolute worst day” of his life – but also “the best day.”
Events began unfolding around 7 p.m. at the family’s Hyde Park home. Joshua had finished his weekly online squadron meeting a little early so he could join another virtual session with “Youth As Civic Experts,” a national civics program.
He thought his 10-year-old brother, Luke, was watching a movie with friends, so he was startled to hear the younger boy stumble down the stairs. He sprinted to Luke and discovered a small snack cracker partially lodged in his throat.
From his CPR training, Joshua knew the cracker wasn’t completely stuck, as his brother could still say a few words and make gagging sounds. Joshua also knew the Heimlich maneuver wasn’t appropriate for the situation. Instead, he bent Luke over and repeatedly gave the younger boy hard pats on the back until the cracker came out, enabling him to breathe properly.
The cadet then gave his very relieved mother, Jane Ortiz, a quick first aid lesson on how damaging the Heimlich maneuver could have been.
Only about an hour later, Joshua and his mother were watching a movie in the living room. Standing a few feet away, the third brother, 14-year-old Cian, was struggling to unwrap a round piece of candy. Because his thumb was covered in gauze after he’d earlier cut it while preparing food, Cian found removing the candy wrapper difficult, so he decided to use his mouth instead.
Suddenly he inhaled, and the round green candy, only a half-inch in diameter, lodged in his throat. The boy “went pale, froze up, veins began to bulge and he could not talk nor breath,” Joshua later recalled.
“One minute I was watching the movie, and all of sudden I was performing the Heimlich maneuver on my brother,” he said.
Joshua doesn’t even remember running to Cian. “I reacted with instinct, stayed calm and followed my training,” the cadet said. He didn’t see the candy expelled, but he heard what sounded like “a marble hitting the floor,” he said.
His brother could breathe and talk.
Joshua experienced a profound sense of relief. His mother grabbed her sons and hugged them.
For the rest of the night the three brothers and their mother huddled together silently, watching a movie, all too aware of what could have happened.
“It was the worst day because my brothers could have died,” Joshua said, “but it was the best day because I was able to rely on my training from CAP and my certified lifeguard/CPR training that enabled me to save them.”