For a split second, MEA member Leigh Osentoski thought her student was joking around – until reality set in.
The sophomore girl was choking so severely she couldn’t get any air to make a sound. Hunched over, the teenager was signaling with her arms to draw Osentoski’s attention.
“It was not even half a second before I picked her up and started doing the Heimlich maneuver, but it didn’t work,” Osentoski said. “Then I tried it a second time, and it still didn’t work.”
The Capac agriscience teacher had been on a field trip last Wednesday with 30 students involved in a Future Farmers of America (FFA) competition in Fowlerville. The group was eating lunch at a fast food restaurant.
The FFA advisor, Osentoski was filling a drink at the beverage station when the girl approached. “She wasn’t making any noise, but I’m very glad she had the mindset to come up to me,” she said.
Osentoski had recently attained her CPR recertification. She knew to keep calm and level-headed. Reach around the student with both arms from behind. Thrust upward from the sternum with as much force as possible.
“I felt my hands – my fists go into her,” the teacher said. “All I was thinking about was that I would do whatever I had to do to get it out.”
But when the first two tries didn’t succeed, Osentoski had a moment of doubt. She called out to a male school board member who was chaperoning the trip. “I’m a pretty strong girl, but I needed the backup just in case,” she said.
That’s when the third Heimlich maneuver worked.
After a few moments of reassurance with the student – “I asked her a couple times, ‘Are you OK?’ and she said, ‘I’m OK’ and I’m asking ‘Are you sure?’ and she says, ‘Yeah, I’m fine,’” – Osentoski realized she was badly shaken herself.
“The kids call me Oz, and they were saying, ‘Oz, are you OK?’” she said. “I had to compose myself for a minute. I felt so many emotions; proud I was able to do it, scared that I had to do it, glad everything turned out OK.”
The girl’s mom, a nurse, was appreciative beyond words. The student – described as quiet and very smart – traveled the next day to Michigan State University to participate in the World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute, presenting her research project on water sanitation in India.
There she was named one of eight 2017 Bourlaug Scholars in the state – a happy ending to the story.
But Osentoski doesn’t want to leave it there. She wants school employees to listen up: This frightening scenario could occur anywhere, anytime.
“Now I realize that, yeah, everybody needs to get certified,” she said.
Michigan school code requires certification in first aid and CPR only to receive a Provisional Teaching Certificate. After that, recertification is recommended but not required every one or two years.
Osentoski was recertified last fall and serves on the school’s First Response team for medical emergencies. She’s never used the Heimlich maneuver before and never thought she would need it. “Then, guess what – there I was in that terrible situation, and I knew what to do.”
MEA offers our student members of SMEA free CPR training sessions, which normally cost between $105-250. Sessions dates are generally held on Saturdays and fill up quickly once they’re announced by email.