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PH Nurses and Teamwork Save Choking Man's Life

September 4, 2013

Originally published May 14, 2012

Public health nurses saved Mr. Bob Adams' life when he found himself choking during lunch on May 2 at the Buford Human Services Center. The Buford Health Center's public health nurses were able to perform the Heimlich Maneuver to help remove a foreign object lodged in the airway that prevented Adams from breathing.

"There is a quality assurance/quality improvement standard that PH nurses must maintain their CPR skills," said Carole Jakeway, chief nurse, Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH).  "We are very proud of the public health nurses for saving another life."

On an ordinary day, the Buford Human Services Center houses the Buford Health Center, Buford Senior Center, Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) and Women, Infants and Children (WIC). The government agencies provide an array of services to Georgians in public health district 3-4, covering Newton, Rockdale and Gwinnett counties.  

The Buford Senior Center provides daily activities such as Wii bowling, Spanish classes, Belly dancing, Rummikub, and BINGO.  During a routine lunch on May 2, the center quickly changed from senior guests gathering to enjoy a healthy meal and socializing to a life threatening moment.  

The Buford Senior Center called 9-1-1 as Adams, 70, began choking on his food. He was barely getting enough air into his lungs to cough.  Adams went into the restroom and Jimmy Shuman, a kitchen assistant with the Buford Senior Center, was in the restroom. Shuman immediately called out for help.

Luckily, Tim Morris, Buford Senior Center operations coordinator and dental assistant Jeannine Craddock were in the right place to relay for help until paramedics arrived.

Craddock ran to get her public health team consisting of Marsha Moore, LPH; Kim Sims, LPN; and Janice Puckett, RN.  Puckett, a nurse for 30 years, continued the relay of medical rescue started by her team, while the 9-1-1 rescuers were in route to the facility.

"When I got there, he was obviously cyanotic, meaning he was blue or purple in the face because of respiratory difficulty," Puckett described. "He was unable to talk or breathe. He went unconscious and fainted."  

With her public health training and clinical judgment, Puckett tried a couple of abdominal thrusts to try to force the object out of Adams' throat. 9-1-1 was still in route at this point. "

"I told Tim that if I don't get this thing out of him, he's not going to make it," said Puckett. "So I loosened his belt buckle and Tim and I sat him up."

Puckett described how she put Morris' hand on Adams' belly button for the Heimlich Maneuver.
 
"I stood behind Tim and I placed my hands over his and I said, 'Let's  just push as hard as we can.'  With one final push, the object came up and out," said Puckett. "There was a piece of meat stuck in his throat. "

While still waiting for 9-1-1 rescuers to arrive, the public health team assembled the emergency kit, defibrillator and oxygen to help the man.  

Adams looked up and asked, "Am I going to die?"  

"Not today," Puckett told him. Public health nurses placed the oxygen on Adams and by then the 9-1-1 rescuers had arrived.  

Adams was transported to Gwinnett Medical Center where he checked out okay and went home with his daughter. The next day he was back at the center playing a game of pool. Puckett and her staff were all back at work the next day when she ran into Mr. Adams.  She noticed his calm demeanor as they discussed the medical emergency.  

"Bob, did you realize how serious things were while you were choking?"  

"That's what they tell me," responded Adams.
 
The Buford Senior Center, provides daily services for seniors, 60 and older, to play games, enjoy healthy meals, socialize with their peers and attend educational programming and storytelling as they reminiscent about their lives. Staff takes pride in their guests staying mentally and physically active.  

"We're glad that our staff could respond in an emergency situation - call and rescue," said Melanie Miller, public relations specialist for Gwinnett County Health & Human Services. "We're glad that Bob could come back the next day with such a positive attitude about life. We're especially grateful that public health was right there in the building. We like the convenience of having them next door."

The next time you are having lunch or out dining with family or friends, keep the Heimlich Maneuver steps in mind. You never know when you will have to jump into action to save your dinner guests' life just as the public health nurses and Buford Senior Center staff did for Adams.  

Puckett advised that when you are choking or need medical help, stay in an area where others can assist you. Never retreat to a place by yourself. The center plans to add this educational advice to their daily information for seniors.