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Episode 52: Health Class Lesson Helps to Save a Life in the Lunchroom

It was a day in the cafeteria at West Jordan Middle School that some students will never forget. On this episode of the Supercast, hear how a 9th grade student sprang into action, using a technique he learned in health class, to save the life of his best friend who was choking. It is a story of heroism and a health teacher’s life-saving lessons.


Audio Transcription

Superintendent Godfrey:
Welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. It was a day in the cafeteria at West Jordan Middle School that some students will never forget. On this episode of the Supercast, hear how a ninth-grade student jumped into action, using a technique he learned in health class, to save the life of his best friend, who was choking. It's a story of heroism and to help teacher lifesaving lessons. We're here with two students at West Jordan Middle School that had an extraordinary experience last week. Tell me your names.

Jackson:  Jackson Johnson.

Hunter: Hunter Olsen

Superintendent Godfrey:
Jackson, and Hunter. So, Jackson, tell us what happened the other day in the cafeteria.

Jackson:
I got my lunch. I sat down and was eating it. I had hiccups throughout the day. So, I hiccup and a piece of chicken got stuck in my throat.  I was trying to see if I could cough it up but nothing happened. So, I turned around and I signaled to my friend "I'm choking" and then he got up and did the Heimlich.

Superintendent Godfrey:
And that's your friend, Hunter, that did that. Did you have to get his attention? What was the choking sign that you gave?

Jackson:
I just put my hands over my throat.

Superintendent Godfrey:
And so Hunter, you see this and what did you do?

Hunter:
My first instinct was just to come up and try to help as much as I could. That was pretty much just it.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So when you walked over to him, what happened? Did you just go right into Heimlich mode?

Hunter:
Yes, pretty much. I had to make sure he was actually choking first because we were all at the table, just laughing, just because we thought he was just choking on something little, like it went down the wrong tube or something. Then he was just coughing over the garbage can.

Superintendent Godfrey:
When you first realized, I'm really choking here, what did you do to get their attention?

Jackson:
Well, they were all looking at me because I thought I was messing around. I turned and I looked dead at Hunter and I started putting my hands over my throat saying "I'm choking" while signaling it. And then he realized it and hopped up. Well, everyone else just thought it was still a joke.

So, I just decided, I'm going to focus on one person and that person is Hunter, and I'm going to make sure I get his attention. Because I knew he would actually do something.

Superintendent Godfrey:
That's pretty awesome. What made you know that Hunter was the guy to take action and save your life?

Jackson:
The two other kids kind of weren't paying attention, and the other one was my brother who, the whole time, was kind of just saying, "Call home", because he really wanted to go home.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Okay. So, Hunter is the go-to guy.

Hunter:
When he turned around, he kind of had a look in his eyes like, "Oh shoot, it's actually in there and I can't get it out myself". So, I thought, okay. I just stepped up and adrenaline shot up. I just went into autopilot I guess, and just did what I learned in health class and I've seen her at work.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So you did feel that surge of adrenaline, you kind of realized, "Hey, something's really wrong here". And have you felt that other times in your life before? Is there a comparable moment?

Hunter:
Yeah, a few years ago when I played football. If you get a big tackle or the whole team's depending on you to stop a play or something, it's just that kind of agenda and that adrenaline rush. It was kind of like that on steroids.

Superintendent Godfrey:
And so your friend seems to be joking, you're laughing around, you realize he's actually choking, you get the adrenaline rush and you said you went into autopilot now. I don't know that I have autopilot for that sort of situation. We'd all like to think that we do, but I don't think we do. So how were you prepared for that situation?

Hunter:
I think I just paid attention in health class and I learned the practice in there and I just put it into real life.

Superintendent Godfrey:
How recently had you learned the Heimlich Maneuver?

Hunter:
Last year, in eighth grade.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So you paid attention in health class? That's an awesome thing. And it was last year, so you really did pay attention. Have you ever done the Heimlich before this time?

Hunter:
No. If this was my first time.

Superintendent Godfrey:
And so did you have to think about what to do or did you just do it?

Hunter:
Well, I just remembered kind of where to put my hands and I just kind of did it.

Superintendent Godfrey:
We're here in the cafeteria where it happened and Jackson is standing right there. Can you reenact it for us? Can you kind of show us? Let's see. Start choking Jack. Okay. What did you do? Jackson?

Jackson:
I put my arms up so that he could reach around.

Hunter:
I'm shorter than Jackson.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Let's see you try that. We're here in the cafeteria, where it happened? Let's see, you stand back there and you just went, right?

Jackson:
Oh, a little bit too high and then he pushed.

Superintendent Godfrey:
He pushed it also. So, Jack, you pushed his hands down to get his hands into the right position?

Jackson:
Yeah.

Superintendent Godfrey:
And how many times did you have to do it?

Hunter:
It was like four times before I actually popped it up.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So Jack, what were you feeling? Were you both feeling that high level of stress as it's happening? I'm assuming, yes. I don't think I've ever done the Heimlich Maneuver. I don't remember ever doing that on someone. So, the meat then came out of your throat, right? And how did you feel right in the aftermath of that?

Jackson:
I was shocked that actually had come out because it felt like it was pretty stuck and I was also relieved to be able to breathe.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Were you holding your throat afterward trying to swallow and did you feel fine afterwards?  What did you say to a Hunter afterward?

Jackson:
I said thank you.

Superintendent Godfrey:
One of the biggest, thank you's of your life, I would guess.

Jackson: Yeah.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So, did you tell your parents about what happened?

Jackson:
They saw it as soon as they posted the thing on Instagram about Hunter.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Oh yeah, you posted it on Instagram?

Jackson:  The school did.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Oh, the school did. And so that's how they found out?

Jackson:  Yeah.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So, they found out from the school Instagram account before you told them.

Jackson:
Yeah.  Then they called me down to call my parents.

Superintendent Godfrey:
How did your parents react once you talked with them about it?

Jackson:
My mom was relieved that I was alive. My dad came up to me and said, "Start chewing your food now."

Superintendent Godfrey:
Lessons to be learned all around. Pay attention in health class to your food and sometimes your friends aren't joking. They really do need your help.

Jackson:  Yeah.

Superintendent Johnson:
I really liked your description of the way the adrenaline kind of came up and the way that you, Jackson, described how you knew you were in trouble at a certain point. You knew it was really lodged in there. There are those moments that, figuratively, we feel that there's danger, that we know there's something we need to do and that we need help. And those moments that Hunter experienced, where we know its time for us to step up and somebody needs us and we need to do that right now. Whether it's your teammates that you described or whether it's saving your friend's life. How does it feel when I say that sentence, "Saving your friend's life"?

Hunter:
It's pretty shocking. I'd never thought I'd really save one of my friend's life, in that moment, but it's just kind of shocking.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So as a ninth grader, you've saved your friend's life. What's next for you now? I mean, it's always onward and upward. What's the next big achievement?

Hunter:
I don't really know. If something comes up again, I'll jump in.

Superintendent Godfrey:
I have to say that we all hope that we would do what you did, but it's pretty impressive that you were able to remember what needed to happen and you jumped in and just took action, because a lot of times, someone's going to run for help instead of be the help. And it's pretty awesome that you were the help and thank you. What kind of bond did this create between you two?

Hunter:
I think we had a pretty strong bond before because we hang out a lot. His dad was my old football coach, so we got to spend a lot of time together. But I think it even strengthened that brotherhood that we have together and I'm just really glad that he's my friend.

Superintendent Godfrey:
What do you think Jackson?

Jackson:
I'd have to say the same thing.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So, do the two of you pay as good attention in your other classes as you did to your health class?

Hunter:
Some of them. I liked my health class a lot. The teacher really had an impact on us.

Superintendent Godfrey:  I would say if you pay as good attention in other classes, as you did in health and you apply your learning from those other classes, as well as you did in your health class, then you have great things ahead of you.

So, we pulled up some security footage and we actually can watch it. Have you guys seen this video yet?

Jackson and Hunter:
No.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Okay. We're going to watch it and then we're going to get your reaction. Okay. So, what happens here?

Jackson:
I started choking and you can see Julio pointed and laughed at me.

Hunter:  We're all laughing at him.

Superintendent Godfrey:
You're leaning over at the table.

Jackson:  Yeah. I'm trying to cough it up into the garbage can.

Superintendent Godfrey:
You're pointing your throat.

Jackson:
And then, yeah.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Wow. You really use some force Hunter.

Hunter:  Yeah.

Jackson:
This is where I moved his hands down.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Hunter, it didn't work at first and you just kept going. Wow! That was six times you lifted him off the ground.

Hunter:
Yeah. And right at the end I put my arms up and I yelled for my health teacher named Ms. Howa.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So you celebrated her. Oh wow! That's amazing! You lifted him off the ground a couple of times is pretty strong.

Hunter:
Yeah, obviously.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So, all that football that Jack's dad coached you in prepared you for this as well, because you really put some strength behind that. And what was impressive is that you didn't give up. You just kept going. You didn't say, "Hey, I've done it a few times. It's not working". You stayed with it.

Hunter:
Yeah.

Superintendent Godfrey:
I think we need to freeze frame the moment where you put your hands up and say her name, and we need to put that in a frame for your teacher.

Hunter:  Okay.

Superintendent Godfrey:
We're going to do that. That's pretty impressive.

Hunter:
And then Julio, our friend right there, he went to go tell the hall monitor.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So Julio went for help. Yeah. We're watching this again. That's just amazing. He just stayed with it. And were you okay after that? Did your throat hurt for a long time after that?

Jackson:
I was all right. It didn't really hurt.

Superintendent:
Did you finish your chicken sandwich?

Jackson:  Yeah.

Superintendent Godfrey:
It's a real pleasure talking to both of you and I'm just proud of what you guys have done. You kept your head in a very difficult circumstance and that's going to serve you well in the future. Great job. Wow. That's incredible.

Stay with us. When we come back, hear from the health teacher whose classroom lesson helped save a life.

Sandra Riesgraf:
Are you looking for a job right now? Looking to work in a fun and supportive environment with great pay and a rewarding career? Jordan school district is hiring. We're currently feeling full and part time positions. You can work and make a difference in young lives and education as a classroom assistant or a substitute teacher. Apply to work in one of our school cafeterias where our lunch staff serves up big smiles with great food every day. We're also looking to hire custodians and bus drivers in Jordan School District. We like to say people come for the job and enjoy the adventure. Apply today @ workatjordan.org.

Superintendent Godfrey:
We're here with Kathy Howa, a teacher at West Jordan Middle School. Kathy, you've had a significant impact of the school in just a few short years. You were Hunter's teacher, who performed the Heimlich on Jackson in the school cafeteria and saved his life. How does that feel?

Kathy Howa:
I'll tell you what, it's probably the highlight of my career. I don't think a teacher could be thanked any more than somebody listening in their class and being able to save another person's life.

Superintendent Godfrey:
I'll agree with you there. This is an awesome feather in your cap. You know, teachers have a big impact on students and sometimes it is not so evident and immediately as this. I talked with Hunter and he says, it's information from your class last year that helped him jump into action. What do you think of that?

Kathy Howa:
It's pretty amazing. As a teacher, you always wonder if the student is listening and you know that they're not going to get all the information, but it's a great thing to know that he listened. The other thing is that he had the power to jump up and actually do it. That was amazing because all of us ask ourselves, what would I do in that particular situation. And to know that kid was brave enough to do that was so amazing. And what an impact, he saved someone's life.

Superintendent Godfrey:
What that says to me is you didn't just teach them the procedure. You gave your student the confidence to act on what you taught.

Kathy Howa:
Thank you. I hope that happens. There's a lot of things in health that are so important that these kids learn because it's their life. And especially as adolescents, you know, that they're learning what we need them to learn right now with a lot of the subjects.

Superintendent Godfrey:
What you taught Hunter had an impact because he loved your class. That's what he told me.

Kathy Howa:
Oh, that melts my heart. And it definitely does that. The kids are just everything. And you know, if you just lead them to where you need to lead, hopefully they'll become great human beings in our community.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Now, I'm going to guess that Hunter didn't walk into health class on the first day and say, "You know what, I'll bet this is going to be my favorite class". But as soon as he gets to know you and starts to see how things are in the classroom, it becomes a favorite class because of the teacher, because of you.

Kathy Howa:
Thank you. That means a lot. Thank you so much.

Superintendent Godfrey:
There's an exciting tidbit that I learned as we watched this video with Hunter and Jackson. We watched the video of a Hunter actually performing the Heimlich. And after he knew that Jackson was okay, he celebrated by putting both fists in the air and he yelled, "Howa, woah!" So, he shouted out your name after he'd saved Jackson's life.

Kathy Howa:
I just heard that, just lately. I wish I would have been there, but what a special thing. I don't think I'll ever top this, you know? Just things that happen in your career. I don't think there's a better reward. There just isn't.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Well, it's a great achievement. And it's a reflection of the 28 years of great teaching you've been doing and connecting to kids and helping them understand the importance of what you're teaching. So, thanks for being a great example of what an awesome teaching looks like.

Kathy Howa:
Thank you so much. I appreciate that.

Superintendent Godfrey:
And you're going to be extending the Heimlich Maneuver unit in your class?

Kathy Howa:
Well, right now I'm just hoping that we can get to where the kids can actually have the hands-on practice. We do a practical where they have to pass a test in the classroom. So, I'm hoping to get there. I wish I was doing it sooner instead of at the end of my two quarters. I would teach this a lot sooner.

Superintendent Godfrey:
It's one of the favorite stories that I've heard in a long time. It's been a pleasure talking with you, and it was great talking with the students as well. So, thanks for everything you're doing and keep up the great work. Thank you so much.

Thanks again for joining us on the Supercast and remember, education is the most important thing you'll do today, wherever you are. We'll see you.

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