Teacher Saves Student's Life
Mario Montes was eating a cheeseburger and sharing a joke with friends in the Will Rogers’ lunchroom Wednesday afternoon when the unexpected happened.
A piece of bun lodged in the 12-year-old’s windpipe and he began to choke mid-giggle.
“I saw him go, ‘ugghhhh, ughhhh,’ and his face started turning red,” said classmate Adrian Ramirez, who was sitting next to Mario at the time. “I thought he was playing but he wasn’t.”
Videotape of a cafeteria filled with nearly 100 students shows Mario begin to choke, grab for his throat, then jump from his seat and hop toward Rebecca Perez. As coincidence would have it, Perez - Mario’s classroom teacher - was working lunch duty and standing next to Mario’s table.
“I ran over and tried to talk to her but I couldn’t,” Mario would recall several hours later. “I couldn’t do it because I couldn’t breathe.”
A teacher at Will Rogers for the past 17 years, Perez had previous on-the-job training in the Heimlich maneuver. Part of that instruction included the fact that choking is the No. 1 cause of accidental death.
But what propelled her into action was instinct, Perez says, not heroics. “His face was red and he was pointing to his throat kind of frantically. I knew there was something seriously wrong,” she said.
Videotape of the incident shows Perez rub Mario’s back, then quickly and calmly lead him out of the cafeteria and into a kitchen workroom.
“I thought he was embarrassed because the kids were watching him so I took him back there where they couldn’t see him,” she explained.
As Mario became increasingly frantic, Perez wrestled for control of her taller student by grabbing and twirling him into a position where she could wrap her arms around his waist and do abdominal thrusts.
“He was fighting me, pulling away from me so I grabbed him. I felt bad because I just knew it was going to leave a bruise,” she said.
Mario’s arm indeed was bruised and his dignity dinged, but once Perez squeezed two or three times, the bread shot free from his mouth.
The relief, Mario says, was immediate.
As a precaution, paramedics were called to the school and examined Mario.
“It was an ordeal for him,” Perez said. “There was a police officer, three paramedics, the school administrators. A bunch of people. They were all looking down and asking him if he was okay,” Perez said. “He was nervous. He was like me (thinking), ‘Okay, people, it’s over with.’”
Mario went home from school early yesterday, took a nap, and then had recovered enough by mid-afternoon to help his mom cook lunch. “He told me he stayed hungry, because he didn’t finish eating his food at school,” Martha Montes laughed.
In the meantime, Perez returned to her classroom, but wasn’t breathing completely easy. “I’m still a bit shaky,” she admitted. “Really, it was no big deal…but yes, it did make me a little bit nervous.”
In contrast, Martha Montes thinks Perez' swift and calm actions were a big deal. If it wasn't for her," Montes said, "I don't know what would have happened."