‘He’s choking!’

Published 10:37 pm Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Suffolk woman became a local hero this weekend when she saved an 11-year-old boy from choking at a North Main Street restaurant.

Trish Gibson and her husband went out to eat with another couple at Applebee’s on Sunday. Meanwhile, Marjorie Wills had taken her grandchildren, Jack and his 9-year-old sister, Grace, out to eat at the same restaurant.

Thankful: Jack Mayo, 11, gives nurse Trish Gibson a grateful hug after she used the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge a piece of cheese from his throat at a restaurant on Sunday.

As her family dined on appetizers, Wills realized her grandson was leaning over his plate, mouth agape, and was turning colors.

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She jumped up and hit him twice on the back, then swept his throat with her fingers, but was unable to dislodge the mozzarella stick. She tried the Heimlich maneuver a couple of times but still failed to expel the cheese.

She called for help, but nobody in the packed restaurant responded. She called out again, this time a little louder, and even made eye contact with nearby patrons. Still, nobody came to her aid.

Finally, she screamed, “He’s choking!” loudly enough for the entire restaurant to hear. That was the first time Gibson heard her.

The Bon Secours nurse sprang into action, leaping over her husband when he wasn’t moving his chair quickly enough for her liking. Once she reached Jack, she also tried the Heimlich but was unable to get enough leverage because he is almost as tall as she is.

She shouted for somebody taller than her to come try the maneuver, but nobody responded. Finally, she stood on a chair that gave her the height she needed and tried the thrust once more. Jack coughed up the cheese stick.

Meanwhile, a server had called 911, but Jack was breathing by the time the rescue squad arrived. They determined his lungs and throat were clear.

“It was very, very frightening,” Wills, Jack’s grandmother, said in a phone interview Thursday. “He had started turning purple. We’re just so grateful and so thankful that she was there.”

Nobody realized until it was all over that Gibson’s friend had been holding Grace, Jack’s terrified younger sister, throughout the ordeal.

“They were both just so nice,” Wills said. “Just little guardian angels.”

Jack said he is thankful to Gibson for saving his life.

“I just really want to thank her and just keep in touch with her,” he said. “I was worried, and I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Jack’s parents were on a date in Virginia Beach when it happened. They got a phone call from a rescue worker and, after talking to Jack, authorized the rescue squad not to take him to the hospital.

“It’s amazing what she did for us,” mom Allison Mayo said. “We’re so grateful. What do you do for someone that saves your son’s life?”
Gibson said she didn’t do it for payback or recognition, but simply because she would want someone to do the same for her family.

“I just hoped if it was my child, somebody would have been there to help me,” she said.

Even though she has the training, she never pictured herself saving someone outside a hospital setting, she said.

“My instinct kicked in,” she said. “I did exactly what I was trained to do.”

Gibson said the entire family — especially Jack — was grateful for her actions.

“He must have said thank you a thousand times,” she said. “I told his grandmother no thanks was needed.”

She said the only disappointing part of the event was the fact that nobody else stepped up to help. Only two people stopped by her table later to say something about it.

One of them offered possible insight into why everyone froze: “I didn’t know what to do,” Gibson said the man told her. “But you are my hero.”