May 31, 2017

Teacher saves a life with Heimlich

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYsUT Communications

pembrokeTeachers make a difference every day – but saving a life on Teacher Appreciation Day is making a mark in a whole new way.

On Teacher Appreciation Day May 9, Pembroke speech teacher Pam Petrushesky ate a quick dinner, but stopped herself from going back to class to log information for school services as planned. Instead, she stayed in the lounge to keep the elementary principal Lisa Blake company when she saw that Blake would be eating alone. That night, most of the faculty and staff had volunteered their time to be at the school for a family festival.

Within minutes of starting to eat her roast beef sandwich, Blake stood up hastily and started making a panicky, squeaking sound from her obstructed airway.

“Her hands went right to her throat,” said Petrushesky, a member of the Pembroke Teachers Association

Using training that had been taught to her by colleague Kim Altman, Petrushesky started the Heimlich maneuver. She found the spot above the belly button and below the ribs and began applying pressure in the area of the diaphragm.

“Three thrusts later the roast beef sandwich came up,” Petrushesky said.

She said another teacher who had come into the lounge during Blake’s dinner kept talking to them to keep them calm. Someone ran to find Altman. A secretary called 911.

Blake was able to breathe and talk, but still had a piece of food wedged in her throat. Altman arrived and applied several more thrusts, clearing the throat completely. Firefighters came on the scene as well.

“I think I shook for three days,” said Petrushesky, a life-saving hero. Her work is usually more subdued: She is a speech pathologist who works with students who have speech and language deficits.

She credits her knowledge in the life and death situation to the training from Altman, a reading teacher and a volunteer EMT.

“She holds trainings all the time. She’s an unbelievable gift to us. The only reason I knew what to do was because of Kim. She has run so many drills,” Petrushesky said.

Still marveling at how the situation turned out on Teacher Appreciation Day, Pembroke Teachers Association President Greg Kinal asked, “What’s the irony in that?”

Kinal said both teachers are an asset to the bargaining unit. “Both ladies are top notch in their field and top notch as human beings.”

“We all pull together and have a very strong union and a great relationship with the administration and the board,” said Petrushesky. “Our union is very involved in the community.”

Chances are high that next time she shows up to volunteer at an event, many people will recognize her as a hero.