Location: Salcedo, Missouri
Date: March 10, 1992


David Cooper of Salcedo, Missouri, had been involved in EMS for 15 years, but never realized the importance of instructing young children in emergency first aid for choking until the evening of March 10, 1992, when he left his 8-year-old son, Michael, and his 11-year-old daughter, Mary Beth, in the care of their 73-year-old great grandmother, Mary Cantrell.

This was a biweekly event for David, who brought his children to his grandmother's house, where they all had dinner together before he left to attend a class. "My grandmother fixed us fried chicken with all the trimmings," David said. "She's always been an excellent cook. It was just like any of the other nights. When the meal was over, I got up and did my routine with the kids--giving them their hugs and kisses and wishing everybody good-bye."

"I helped my grandma with the dishes for a little while," Mary Beth said. Then she went into the living room to join her brother in front of the television set. After a little while, "we heard my grandma banging on the kitchen counter. We went into the kitchen, and when she turned around, her face was real blue."

Finding a piece of unfinished chicken on her plate, Mary had decided to eat it before loading the plate into the dishwasher. Hastily pushing it into her mouth, she managed to lodge it in her throat and, gasping for air but unable to speak, banged on the counter to get the children's attention.

"I knew I had to do something, and Mary Beth said, 'Dial 911,'" Michael said. "She was holding onto the counter and trying to get her breath, but she just couldn't. I was afraid she was going to die. I saw people on Rescue 911 doing the Heimlich Maneuver and I just thought that's what needed to be done to my grandma," Mary Beth said.

She proceeded to wrap her arms around her great grandmother's waist and give two upward thrusts, but with no results. Michael reported getting a busy signal on the 911 line, and they traded places, with Mary Beth taking the phone and Michael performing the Heimlich Maneuver on Mary.

Mary Beth got through to a dispatcher, but hung up the phone before she could speak and raced across the street to get a neighbor. "I was so scared that she was going to die," Michael said. "I just wrapped my arms around her and kept pulling." On the fifth thrust, he was successful. "It just flew right out into the sink," Michael said of the piece of chicken that had almost ended his great grandmother's life.

"I was proud of what they had done," David said, "and I was surprised because Michael and Mary Beth had never been trained in the Heimlich Maneuver. And when I asked them about it, they promptly informed me that what they had seen they had picked up off Rescue 911. Nonetheless, nothing can substitute for actual classroom training, where you can understand the do's and don'ts of providing first aid."

"Before this, I had always believed that instructing young children in emergency first aid was not a good idea. But after what Michael and Mary Beth had done, my attitude changed. I think that a child is capable of picking up and learning anything that you can present to him or her."

"I'm just so proud that words can't tell it," said Mary. "Unless somebody's saved your life, you don't know how to express it. "My grandma could be gone right now," Mary Beth said, "but she's still with us. And if my brother hadn't done that, she probably wouldn't be."