“He’s choking,” yelled a student in Tauna LaPierre’s second grade class at Top of the World Elementary in Laguna Beach.
Classmate Corwin Allard, allowed to finish a snack of strawberries at his desk while La Pierre read to the class, instead was pacing the floor when she turned from the book to face Corwin. Rushing to his side, she asked him if he was choking, but he was unable to answer.
“I knew he was when he tried to drink from his thermos but couldn’t swallow the water,” said LaPierre, a district teacher since 2008.
LaPierre wrapped her arms around Corwin and performed three abdominal thrusts with her fists above his navel, better known as the Heimlich maneuver. She then raced to the classroom door to seek help just as a strawberry “flew out” of Corwin’s mouth as if a projectile.
“In that moment you just hope you remember everything you learned in CPR class,” said LaPierre, who, like all district teachers, passed CPR certification to get hired.
After another teacher passing the classroom walked Corwin to the nurse’s office, LaPierre put on an “everything is fine face” and resumed reading the story to the 16 remaining students.
Only after she had walked students to lunch and returned to the classroom alone did she allow herself to react to the enormity of the situation. “I immediately broke into tears; it was a very emotional experience,” she recalled of the incident in October. “The whole thing took place in about a minute, but it felt more like 15,” she said.
Rapid first aid can save the life of a choking person, who can suffer brain damage in as little as six minutes due to a blocked airway, says the U.S. National Library of Medicine website.
“It was a wake-up call for our family,” said Corwin’s mother, Diane, who said neither she nor her husband or 20 year-old son have had any CPR training, but they plan to get certified before year’s end.
While looking for a local class, Allard spotted a contest offered by Surefire CPR, a Newport Beach-based first aid instruction company, seeking nominations for local heroes.
Now, LaPierre is a contestant in the contest and Corwin has “made it his mission” to get his teacher the first prize of $600, his mother said. “He suggested we tell the police and firefighters in town to vote for Mrs. LaPierre because they know CPR, too,” said Allard, who admitted, “it’s taken me awhile to be able to re-tell” the incident.
And the normally quiet student who called attention to Corwin’s peril, “she was a hero, too,” LaPierre said.
Votes for LaPierre can be placed at SurefireCPR.com or on twitter at #MyLocalHero.