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Saranac Lake teacher saves choking student

Author: Emily Allen
Emily and Charlotte

Our "It's What We Do" series offers portraits of NYSUT educators who give back to their communities and across the world.

What started as a fun-filled field trip for Petrova Elementary students to the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival quickly turned frightening, when a first grader approached her teacher while clutching her throat.

Charlotte couldn’t speak, but indicated to her teacher, Emily Shubert, that she was choking.

“She definitely looked scared and was making a wheezing noise,” Shubert said. “It was a perfectly-shaped piece of ice that she had put in her mouth, and it got stuck.”

While many would panic or freeze in a medical emergency, Shubert stayed calm and performed the Heimlich Maneuver for the first time. One thrust and the blockage was cleared.

"It's no surprise that Emily acted as calmly and quickly as she did,” said Eric Bennett, Saranac Lake Teachers Association president. “I'm sure her experiences as a coach and her many trainings in First Aid/CPR allowed her to act decisively and without hesitation."

Thanks to Shubert’s quick response, Charlotte did not need further medical attention.

Her heroism was recognized by the Saranac Lake Police Department during a ceremony in which Shubert received the first-ever Chief of Police Award.

“It made me emotional,” Shubert said. “As educators, our role is so much more than teaching curriculum in the classroom.”

Reflecting on her 10 years as a public school teacher, Shubert says it’s stories like this that truly make her appreciate that fact.

Upon returning from the carnival to the classroom, their shock wearing off and their young minds grappling with the gravity of what they had just witnessed, Shubert’s students voiced a new-found appreciation for her role as well.

“When we got back, we had a group circle and the kids told me they were really happy to know that I could help save them if they were in trouble.”