For nearly 38 years, Mary Chesnutt has worked as a paraprofessional helping fifth- and sixth-grade students who require special accommodations on their reading and ELA skills class work. One of her duties is also to monitor the cafeteria when it’s full of chatty, lively students eating lunch at Persell Middle School in Jamestown, where she is a member of the Association of Jamestown Paraprofessionals.
Shortly before the holidays, she was in the cafeteria when she heard another monitor call her name. Chesnutt looked over and saw a student struggling to breathe.
She asked him if he could breathe and the student shook his head “no.”
“He had his hands up to his throat and his lips were kind of white looking,” Chesnutt said. “I put my arms around him and did the (Heimlich) maneuver three or four times at least.”
Chesnutt, who is 73, said she learned the Heimlich maneuver many years ago when it first became known, watching it on TV. “They showed how to do it, and my daughter and I practiced on each other,” she said.
With her arms wrapped around the fifth-grader, Chestnutt thrust her fists into him. At last, she disgorged a round, prepackaged, cafeteria peanut butter and jelly sandwich that had jammed in his throat.
“I just gave it all I could,” said Chesnutt, who had also sent a student for the principal for assistance. Afterward, she said, “I just stood there. I just thought ‘Whew.’”
The young boy, who Chesnutt said was quite shaken, was taken to the school nurse and then sent home.
When an object becomes lodged in a throat or windpipe, it blocks the flow of air, causing the person to choke. Oxygen to the brain is lost, and a person can die.
“When I went back to the classroom, the kids were all cheering. It felt good,” said Chesnutt, whose local president for the AJP is Elizabeth Wilfong.
The next day, Chesnutt sat next to the student in the cafeteria and reviewed what she had done to him and why, explaining the maneuver.
And then, she headed back to class, to help more students.
“I have no reason to retire,” she said. “I like it here.”