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Schoolhouse heroes

Educators in 3 boroughs save choking students
New York Teacher

Educators make an indelible imprint on their students’ lives, but they are also on the spot to save their lives when the need arises. These three New York City public school educators jumped into action this spring when they saw their students in distress. Their help made the difference in each life-threatening situation.

Maria Piasio
Paraprofessional
PS 247
Bensonhurst, Brooklyn

Maria Piasio, a paraprofessional, covers 1st-grade lunch at PS 247 in Brooklyn. On May 5, she was handing out chicken nuggets to the students.

Suddenly, one student jumped up and put his hands to his throat.

“This little boy must’ve put the whole entire nugget in his mouth,” Piasio said.

It was a fortunate coincidence she had just been trained in CPR and the Heimlich maneuver the night before.

“I said to myself, ‘You gotta try,’ ” said Piasio.

She performed chest compressions on the child.

“On the third hit, the nugget went flying out,” she said. “I was never so happy to see a soggy chicken nugget in my life.”

Piasio said the student was physically OK, but “extremely shaken up” and had to be taken home.

For her part, Piasio said, “My adrenaline must have skyrocketed, because two hours later, I had zero energy in my body; I felt like a deflated balloon.”

It took a few days for the enormity of what had happened to register.

“A class of 3rd-graders made me a card,” she said. “One of them wrote, ‘He would’ve been in heaven, but he’s not.’ I started to cry my eyes out. It could’ve had a different outcome.”

Caroline Giuliano
Speech Therapist
Richmond Pre-K Center
Staten Island

It was lunchtime on March 17 at the Richmond Pre-K Center on Staten Island, and Caroline Giuliano, a speech therapist at the school, had just sat down with a student. She soon noticed a commotion at the next table.

“A boy was coughing a bit, then he was turning really red, then there was no sound at all,” she said.

Giuliano quickly ran over to perform the Heimlich maneuver. After a few thrusts, the child spit out a bit of food.

“I was really shaken up,” she said. “Had I not run there, one more minute, it would’ve been a different story.”

Later, Giuliano grew worried.

“What if I hurt him doing the Heimlich?” she wondered. “He’s little.”

But the student was fine.

“I was relieved that everything worked out,” Giuliano said.

Louise Galante
Teacher
PS 173
Fresh Meadows, Queens

The school day was ending at PS 173 in Queens, and teacher Louise Galante’s kindergarten students were having snacks.

“I saw one of the boys was coughing,” she said. “He stood up, and he was hitting his back. I asked if he was OK and then I realized he was choking.”

She moved behind the student and started performing abdominal compressions. At first, it didn’t seem to help. Then Galante adjusted her hand position.

“I moved up to the diaphragm and pushed hard and out came a bottle cap,” she said.

Apparently, the child had been sucking on a water bottle.

“That’s what kids do, they put things in their mouth,” said Galante. “That cap must have been loose, and it lodged in his throat.”

She said the experience was scary for both of them.

“The student hugged me; he was white as a ghost,” she said.

Galante turned the experience into a safety lesson for her class. They discussed safe eating habits and “how we, as a class, can take care of each other.”

The incident on April 26 left Galante feeling proud to be a teacher.

“I have an important job; I was able to save a child’s life,” she said. “That’s what teachers do; they protect their students.”