Skip to main content
Full Menu
Feature Stories

Teacher saves choking student

Successfully uses Heimlich maneuver at Staten Island school
New York Teacher
Teacher saves choking student

IS 61 teacher Julianne Salinger (right) stands next to the student she rescued after being alerted by the girl’s friend (second from left). Chapter Leader Trish Mezzacappa (left) wasn’t surprised Salinger took action.

Sixth-grade special education teacher Julianne Salinger was on lunch duty on Oct. 21, when a 7th-grader alerted her that another student was choking.

Salinger quickly scanned the stadium seats in the auditorium, an alternative COVID-19 lunchroom space at IS 61 on Staten Island.

“Nobody was there but me,” she said. “I’m the only adult in that section. I had to do what I had to do on my own.”

As Salinger rushed down the steps, the choking student held her hands on her chest, unable to make a sound.

Salinger had never done the Heimlich maneuver. “I’ve only seen those signs that restaurants post. When I was little, I would read them just out of curiosity,” she said. “I remembered how to do it based off the picture on the sign.”

In those harrowing seconds, Salinger’s first thought was, “We’re not really supposed to touch the kids.” But it was an emergency. “I put my arms around her like a hug, kind of underneath the ribs,” she explained. “I made a fist, put my hand over the fist and just squeezed,” all the while hoping it would work.

It did. The student coughed up the food that had been stuck in her throat.

“I was not surprised to hear she saved a life,” said IS 61 Chapter Leader Trish Mezzacappa. “She’s the kind of person I expect to jump to action and help a total stranger. She really is so amazing.”

While the student quickly recovered in the nurse’s office, Salinger said she shook “for the rest of the day. It was scary,” she said. Afterward, she recommended that anyone who has lunch duty be trained in CPR and the Heimlich maneuver because “you never know what could happen.”

It wasn’t long ago that Salinger, a teacher for only five years, was a 7th-grader at IS 61 herself. Mezzacappa said Salinger is an example of what teaching is all about: “You want to not just do your job, but to go above and beyond to help the kids.”

There has been some fuss since that day: colleagues and family members keep calling Salinger a lifesaver; the UFT shared a photo on social media; and the principal spread the news about her heroics in an email to the entire school community.

But the day after, when the student thanked her, Salinger waved it aside. “You don’t have to thank me,” she said. “That’s what we’re here for — to make sure you’re safe.”