Rocky Point school custodian Dave Cook was working on the far side of the high school basement cafeteria stacking chairs June 10 when he heard an announcement from a nearby staff radio.
There was a medical emergency in the cafeteria.
“I sprinted to the other end of the cafeteria,” Cook explained. He saw a teenage girl slumped over at the table.
Avery Ward, 15, had been eating lunch and laughing when a French fry became lodged in her windpipe. Cook sprang into action. He used his right arm to pull her out of the chair, and then placed his left arm over that. Then he used the force of the combined hands to push inward and upward in abdominal thrusts to dislodge the food. After the fifth thrust of the Heimlich maneuver, a French fry came out.
Cook learned the Heimlich technique from a red and white “First Aid for Choking” poster on the cafeteria wall.
“I looked at it every night while I was working; I stopped a few times and read it…. When my son was 7, he was choking on cereal. My wife woke me up. The first thing that came to my mind was that poster. I saved my son.”
That boy, Thomas, is now 24. He and his wife have three sons and a daughter.
Cook said he was thinking about his daughter Lily, 8, when he was rescuing Avery, whose face had begun turning purple.
Once everything settled down, Cook, a member of the Rocky Point School-Related Personnel Association, went back to work.
“I was a little shaken,” he said. “It all sunk in that night. It’s been overwhelming.”
Cook was honored at the June 14 school board meeting, and has been on several television news shows.
One of his most touching recognitions came about a week after the incident, when Avery, a freshman, asked him to sign her yearbook.
“I was her guardian angel that day,” said the 20-year veteran custodian.