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Kingston vice-principal saves colleague from choking

Talya and Jo were at an after-school staff meeting when Jo suddenly began to cough.

Something was caught in her throat.

Though many thought she was fine, Talya, the vice-principal at Frontenac Secondary School, watched her colleague closely.

“I could tell that something wasn’t right,” said Talya. “I could see her deteriorating and fighting for breath…I thought, ‘Oh my goodness – I think she’s choking.’”

Both trained in the ACT High School CPR Program, Jo knew how to communicate to Talya that she needed help.

“She started to turn purple, she stopped coughing, and all of a sudden her hands wrapped around her throat,” said Talya. “I just popped into emergency mode right away.”

“It was really scary because at first I thought I could cough the food up but then I started to lose air,” recalled Jo. “When I put my hands to my throat Talya immediately ran around the table and knocked a couple of people out of the way.”

“I stepped in and got into position and started to perform the Heimlich,” said Talya. “It didn’t come out at first, so I thought I wasn’t doing it hard enough…so I did it a third and fourth time and then she kind of barfed it up.”

Both were so relieved when Jo took in a big gasp of air.

“You never think you’re actually going to use it, but then all of a sudden something happens and it is automatic – everything I had learned came back to me,” said Talya, who had first taken the ACT High School CPR Program in 2002.

As a former phys-ed teacher, Talya has taught the course to more than 600 Grade 9 students.

“It is so important that students and teachers know how to do this,” said Talya. “I’ve told my students that they never know when they will need to do it – it could be on a relative, friend, or someone close to them.”

“This is a life skill that you need to know, and it is definitely a great part of our curriculum,” she said.

Jo and Talya both said they were in shock after Jo coughed up the food.

“It finally hit me five minutes later,” said Talya. “We had big hugs after and she was crying and I was crying and we were hugging….I remember she said, ‘thanks for saving me.’”

“There are no words to thank someone for doing something like that,” said Jo. “She will be my hero forever.”

The ACT High School CPR Program was made possible in Frontenac Secondary School thanks to the generous support of ACT’s community partner the Kiwanis Club of Kingston and local print partner the Kingston Whig-Standard, who donated all the student manuals. ACT’s provincial partners are the Government of Ontario, Hydro One and the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Mannequins and curriculum resources were donated to the school and the teachers were trained as CPR instructors for their students.

Also responsible are ACT’s core partners, companies in the research-based pharmaceutical industry: AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb Canada, Pfizer Canada and sanofi-aventis. They provide ACT’s sustaining funding and are committed to the Foundation’s Ontario program and national goal of promoting health and empowering Canadians to save lives.

The Advanced Coronary Treatment (ACT) Foundation is an award-winning, national charitable organization dedicated to establishing CPR in high schools across Canada. ACT raises funds to donate mannequins, teacher training, manuals and other materials to schools and guides schools in program set-up and long-term sustainability. Teachers teach CPR to their students as a regular part of the curriculum. More than 900,000 youth have been trained in CPR through this lifesaving program to date.