Lying on the floor unconscious, choking from food blocking her airway, Kimberly Glen’s life depended on her 12-year-old daughter Kinsey and the woman giving instructions over the phone.
The story has a happy ending, but it underscores the importance of CPR and the need to learn it before there’s a crisis.
“Kinsey did really well,” says Barbara Morris, the Paulding County, Georgia, 911 dispatcher who calmed her down and talked her through the emergency. “But you’re one leg up if you actually know CPR. You never know when you’re going to use it.”
For Kinsey, a seventh-grader in Dallas, Georgia, 30 miles northwest of Atlanta, that moment came at 5:40 p.m. on March 22. Her mother was in the kitchen making lunch for the next day when she took a bite of a hard-boiled egg.
Glen has a condition called eosinophilic esophagitis, an inflammation that can make it difficult to swallow food. Feeling the egg getting stuck in her throat, she took a drink of water to help push it down.
“But then I coughed and it kind of shot up into my airway,” she says. “I couldn’t get it to come out and I started panicking.”
Unable to breathe, she gestured to Kinsey in the next room to call 911, as they had discussed in case of emergency.
“I started feeling dizzy and my face started feeling kind of tingly and flushed,” Ms. Glen recalls. “I sat down on the kitchen floor and that’s the last thing I remember.”
She had passed out, and the clock had started ticking: Brain cells deprived of oxygen begin to die within minutes. Kinsey was distraught, but phoned her grandmother, who called 911 and told the dispatcher where to send the rescue unit. Then Kinsey herself called 911, where Morris answered the phone.
“My mom is choking and I don’t know what to do!” Kinsey yelled. On the 911 recording, her 8-year-old sister Karina and 3-year-old brother Aidan are crying and screaming in the background.
Morris had an immediate three-fold task: calm the child down, assess the situation, and put Kinsey to work. “We have techniques to calm people and get them to listen to what you’re saying,” said Morris, a 22-year veteran of emergency communications.
Many people associate choking emergencies with the Heimlich maneuver, but that’s only half the story. “If they’ve lost consciousness,” Morris said, “You go into CPR, usually chest compressions,” with the goal of keeping blood flowing and possibly dislodging the blockage.
Kinsey didn’t know CPR, but she was about to learn. “Listen carefully to all my instructions and go to the patient,” Morris said. “I’m going to tell you what to do.”
“OK, come on, tell me!” Kinsey responded.
The dispatcher talked her through the basics of chest compressions: one hand on top of the other, arms locked straight, pushing down hard at least 2 inches, “really hard and really fast, about 100 times a minute.”
“It was scary,” Kinsey said. “I was freaking out. But her voice just calmed me down. I listened to her and I just knew. And I knew if I didn’t do it right I wouldn’t have my mom today.”
Morris also told Kinsey to count the compressions. At about 10, an icky mix of egg, mucus and saliva started to emerge. Karina, the younger daughter, did her best to scoop it out of her mother’s mouth. Kinsey says the dispatcher urged her not to let up and by compression 88, “it finally all came out.”
The ambulance arrived at about the same moment. The whole ordeal had lasted about eight minutes, with Kinsey pounding on her mother’s chest the last four.
Thanks to what the emergency medical technicians described as “high-quality CPR,” Glen soon was breathing normally, alert and fully recovered. She woke up with a messy kitchen, a sore chest and a sense of wonder and gratitude.
“The first thing I did was tell her, ‘Thank you, I’m so proud of you, I love you,’” she said. “I told her she was my little hero.”
Glen, who is studying to be a nurse, says she never thought to teach her children any emergency procedures beyond calling 911.
“It never crosses your mind to say, ‘Hey if I start choking let me teach you to do the Heimlich maneuver, or hey, if I lose consciousness let me teach you how to do CPR.’ Those are things as parents we don’t think about because we always think about taking care of our children, not the reverse.”