Location: Honeoye, New York
Date: April 12, 1992


On the evening of April 12, 1992, four-year-old Shane Luther and his two-year-old brother, Kyle, of Honeoye, New York, were playing in the living room. Their mother, Kay, was cleaning nearby. "Kyle, try this," Kay heard Shane say. Shane put a cribbage game piece, which is shaped like a golf tee, into his mouth and spat it out like a rocket ship.

A moment later, Kay heard a gasping sound. She turned around and saw Shane clutching his throat with his hands. Kay yelled to her husband, John, that Shane was choking. John ran into the living room and slapped Shane on his back, but the game piece did not dislodge. John had not been trained in the Heimlich Maneuver, but he attempted the technique based on what he'd seen on television. When he couldn't expel the object, John tried to look down Shane's throat, but his son's jaw was rigidly clenched.

Since the Luthers' area was not equipped with the 911 system, Kay dialed the local emergency number. Her call was answered by dispatcher Murray Henry of the Ontario County Sheriff's Department. Kay stayed on the line with Henry while the Honeoye-Richmond Volunteer Rescue Squad and an Ontario County Advanced Life Support Unit were dispatched to their home. Henry instructed Kay through the step-by-step details of how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver. Kay relayed the instructions to John, but John still couldn't dislodge the cribbage piece. Shane was losing consciousness.

The Luthers' neighbors, local Assistant Fire Chief John Mason and his wife, Sandy, heard the emergency dispatch over their radio and rushed to the house. Mason was also unsuccessful in expelling the game piece. Shane was not getting air and his condition was deteriorating rapidly.

When the Honeoye-Richmond EMTs arrived and loaded Shane into the rescue vehicle, Mason felt a sense of panic and helplessness. It was the first time in twenty-five years of service he had felt this way, and he was thinking that this rescue attempt would probably end in tragedy.

The situation was too critical to wait for advanced life support, so EMTs radioed the paramedics, who had been dispatched from F. F. Thompson Hospital, twenty-five miles away, and instructed them to take the same route, so they would meet up in midway. En route, Shane began turning blue and was barely breathing. Further attempts at the Heimlich Maneuver had failed.

Ten miles from the hospital, the ambulance met up with the rescue squad. When paramedic Bernie Leavitt boarded the rescue vehicle, Shane, who had been choking for over fourteen minutes, appeared lifeless. He was not breathing and his heart rate was dropping. Leavitt tried to intubate Shane but was unable to get air into his lungs.

As John Mason drove Kay to the hospital, they listened to broadcasts from the rescue vehicle on John's radio. When they heard that Shane was going into respiratory arrest, Mason turned off the radio. "You don't need to hear this," he said to Kay, aware that in another sixty seconds Shane would be in cardiac arrest.

Leavitt knew he had to act quickly to save Shane. He decided to perform a needle cricothyroidotomy, which he had never done before. He inserted a intravenous catheter needle into Shane's neck, bypassing the obstruction, and pushed air into his lungs. Shane responded with an immediate turnaround--his heart rate increased.

At the hospital, Dr. Tom Benzoni surgically removed the cribbage piece from deep inside Shane's throat. Kay could hear Shane in the emergency room. "Shane started screaming at the top of his lungs," she recalls, "and it was music to my ears. That's when I knew he was all right."

Shane was transferred to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester and released four days later without any permanent damage. Shane's experience had made him a wiser and more cautious child. He watches his younger brother carefully and makes sure nothing hazardous goes in his mouth. Kay and John are grateful to all the rescuers for saving Shane's life, especially Bernie Leavitt. "Without Bernie," says John, "there wouldn't be a Shane."