Coaches Save Teen Who Choked on Sandwich

By Pat Battle
|  Friday, Apr 1, 2011  |  Updated 6:24 PM EDT
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Coaches Save Choking Teen

An East Side High School coach demonstrates how he helped save 16-year-old Nancy Cruz, who choked on her sandwich during lunch.

It wasn't even her favorite lunch, and when 16-year-old Nancy Cruz swallowed a chunk of the roast pork sandwich, it nearly killed her.

But Cruz, an honors student at East Side High School in Newark, N.J., is alive and well thanks to three coaches who ran a play they had trained for, but hoped never to use.

It was lunchtime at East Side earlier this week when Cruz began choking, and was unable to breathe. Her friends pounded on her back to no avail, then screamed for help.

Tennis coach and Phys Ed teacher Justin Petino was on lunch duty and dashed to the table in the school cafeteria.

"I put my arms around her, did a few abdominal thrusts and I didn't have any success with it," he told NBC New York.

Petino is 6 feet 4 inches tall, and Cruz is just 5 feet 2. He turned to his colleague, baseball coach Stephen Campos, who was trying to keep the girl upright as Petino worked on her.

They switched places, the 5-foot-7-inch Campos doing the Heimlich maneuver, while Petino kept her vertical.

Meanwhile, Cruz was slipping in and out of consciousness.

"She was turning blue and gray and purple," Campos said. "Then she actually went limp and that's when she loosened up her abdominals. Her whole body went limp and that actually helped. I gave two more thrusts and the food came up."

The third coach, John Thomason, cleared her passageway and the teenager took her first halting breath in more than six minutes.

"I thought I was going to die quick," she said. "I heard somebody saying 'Don't give up, don't give up!'"

And they didn't.

Once her color returned and she was breathing, "that was a good feeling," said Thomason. All the coaches are certified in CPR, which is mandatory for coaches in the district.

The coaches said they were "scared to death" but just followed procedure to avoid panicking.

"We all played our part, it worked for the best, we couldn't ask for anything better," Petino said.

Cruz, an 11th grader, spent a day in the hospital and returned to school on Thursday.

"They saved her life," said school principal Mario Santos. "And she will remember that the rest of her life."
 

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