Four young East Williston students had a lovely field trip that morning to Old Westbury Gardens, and were eating lunch back at their North Side Elementary School classroom.
Then, Tristan Brennan, a non-verbal first grader, began choking on his turkey sandwich.
He jumped up, ran across the room and began slapping his arms. His one-on-one teacher aide, Sarah Fusco, slapped him on the back, but nothing dislodged.
“His face was red. It was clear to me that he wasn’t going to get that out on his own,” said Fusco, a School-Related Professional.
She performed the Heimlich maneuver on the six year old, and still nothing happened.
“It was an awkward position. He was definitely coming off the ground,” said Fusco, who is 5’8”.
She slapped his back again. Nothing.
“It was very, very scary,” she said.
Trained in CPR and first aid as a former day care worker, she relied on those skills to keep going. “If not, I don’t think I would’ve been able to figure it out in order to work through the panic.”
Brennan began making some small sounds like gagging.
She performed the Heimlich again, and a piece of sandwich finally flew out of the young boy’s mouth.
“I was very upset. I was crying. I bent down and hugged him and he hugged me. I picked him up and brought him to the (school) nurse so fast,” she said. He checked out okay.
Fusco said the boy’s mom came and picked him up from school and brought him to the doctor.
“She saved his life,” said Meryl Fordin, president of the East Williston Teachers Association, of which Fusco is a member. “Ms. Fusco is amazing. Her responsibility is to keep Tristan safe. Her attention to Tristan and her quick action saved his life.”
“He’s a very sweet boy. He loves social interaction. He gets very happy and excited,” said Fusco of her work with Brennan.
She said his parents wrote her “a very sweet card” after the terrifying ordeal earlier this month.
“The unsung heroes in our schools are our SRPs. They are critical to the education process and they work with some of our most fragile kids,” said Fordin.
Fusco — who is in her first year at North Side, a Long Island school — said she enjoys working with children older than the ones she used to care for at daycare. And, she said, she appreciates the benefits she now receives as part of her compensation at the school.
“Being in a union,” Fusco said, “is great!”