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Students Trained
Montreal teacher saves colleague from choking

He had no idea he would also be faced with saving the life of a fellow teacher – and friend.

Serge, 34, and teacher Michel, 43, were on the day-long trip with their grade 11 students from LaSalle’s Cavelier-de-LaSalle High School, when they decided to have lunch while waiting for some students to catch up to the group.

“It was a stressful day,” says Michel, who says he was taking big bites of his chicken wrap as he rushed to finish his lunch in case he had to go find the straggling students.

Serge was paying little attention to his friend, until suddenly Michel began making choking sounds. Seeing Serge’s concern, Michel signalled to him that he was fine and didn’t want any help. “I wasn’t under the impression that anything was terribly wrong,” says Michel.

Serge remembered the emergency training he and Michel received through the ACT Teacher Training Program in May 2005. The training is designed to give teachers basic CPR and other lifesaving skills (including the Heimlich Manoeuvre) so that they can instruct their students.

Serge stayed close to monitor the situation. He knew things could escalate.

And they did.

Michel’s face turned very pale and then red as he tried to force the piece of food out of his throat. When he turned blue and stopped making noises, Serge knew he had to act.

His friend’s airway was completely blocked.

“I was telling myself ‘he’s OK.’, but when he stopped breathing and making sounds, I knew I had to do something,” says Serge. “I simply told myself, he’s in trouble and I need to help him.”

Serge began performing the Heimlich Manoeuvre. Thanks to his training, he had the confidence not to hesitate. “I told myself, I’m either going to get the piece out or break a rib, but I have to do something,” he says. Nothing changed after several thrusts, but Serge was not discouraged. With one final blow, the piece of food flew out of Michel’s mouth.

“If I hadn’t received the ACT program, I might not have been able to help,” says Serge.

Knowing he helped to save his friend’s life has touched Serge. “I didn’t feel any different at the time of the incident but I was very emotional afterwards,” he explains. “Michel is my good friend.”

Once the sandwich was dislodged from Michel’s throat, he was completely fine. The remaining students caught up with the group shortly afterwards and everyone returned safely to the school.

The incident has helped both teachers realize firsthand the value of the ACT High School CPR Program. “We’re simply giving youth basic skills so that they can help someone in distress,” says Serge.

Adds Michel: “Having CPR training in schools is an excellent idea. Can it save lives? It certainly can.”

The ACT High School CPR Program is made possible Cavelier-de-LaSalle High School thanks to the generous provincial-level support of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, the Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services, the Quebec Ministry of Education, Recreation and Sports, and Sun Life Financial, as well as community-level partners. This support enables the donation of mannequins, teacher training and curriculum resources for high schools.

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. Over 900,000 youth have been trained in CPR through this lifesaving program to date.

Core partners supporting the program in Quebec and throughout Canada are 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 national goal of promoting health and empowering Canadians to save lives.