11/01/10 — Three co-workers save man choking on piece of candy

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Three co-workers save man choking on piece of candy

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on November 1, 2010 1:46 PM

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Nate Alston, left, Norris Uzzell, center, and Johnny Harper were in the right place at the right time to save the life of a co-worker at WorkSource East last week.

An employee at WorkSource East in Goldsboro likely owes his life to the quick thinking and action of three co-workers who stepped in to help when he choked on a piece of candy.

The last thing graphic arts instructor Jimmy Frederick remembered, he was sitting at a conference table and snacking on Skittles while watching a fire safety video with the other staff members.

What happened next took only the span of a few minutes, but to Norris Uzzell, Johnny Harper and Nate Alston, it felt as if hours passed between the time Frederick was completely fine, and the time he was lying unconscious on the floor.

Frederick tipped the candy bag up to his mouth, and some of the pieces lodged in his airway.

"I feel something in my throat go down wrong, and so I cough. The last thing I remember, I remember coughing about four times, and that's all I remember," he said.

That was when Uzzell noticed something was wrong.

"I heard a sound like he was being strangled," Uzzell said.

Frederick was coughing and walked to the door, then collapsed on the floor. That was when Uzzell, a masonry instructor, and Harper, a member of the housekeeping team, jumped up to help.

Alston, director of community employment at WorkSource East, saw what was happening, too. As Uzzell and Harper supported the choking victim, Alston began performing the Heimlich maneuver.

All three of the rescuers -- and the rest of the company's employees -- were trained and certified in first aid by the Red Cross.

"We stayed calm through the whole thing. We worked together as a team," Alston said.

Alston was successful in helping Frederick dislodge the candy that was stuck in his throat, even though the man briefly lost consciousness from oxygen deprivation. By the time emergency services arrived, Frederick was slowly recovering from the episode.

Frederick was examined by emergency responders and was back at work the next day, but recovering from the frightening experience has made him appreciate the little things in life all the more.

"I was looking out the window and just inhaling and exhaling, and my co-worker asked if I was all right. I said yes, I just want to breathe," Frederick said. "You never know how precious little things are, like walking and breathing and seeing and hearing, until it's temporarily taken away from you."

He is expressly grateful to his coworkers for stepping in and dealing with the emergency.

"I believe God had (them) there purposely to save my life, and it's not anything regarding luck or chance. I thank God for the individuals that were there," Frederick said.

Uzzell, Alston and Harper said they felt comfortable using their training to respond to the emergency.

"I felt as though we did something right, or he wouldn't have been here," Uzzell said.

Frederick knows the scenario could have ended in tragedy if not for his coworkers' quick action.

"My family probably could have been planning my funeral right now, if not for God and those individuals that came to help me. My children could have been without a father and my wife could have been without a husband," he said.

In an unusual twist, a year before, Frederick was the one on the other end of the Heimlich maneuver when he provided first aid to another WorkSource East employee who was choking.

"I guess what's so ironic about this situation is that a little over a year ago, I was on the opposite end," he said. "It's almost like instead of giving a helping hand, this time around, I got a helping hand."

About 33,000 people choke to death each year, according to Wayne County Red Cross health and safety director Tammy Forrester.

The quick action of Uzzell, Harper and Alston likely saved the victim's life, she said.

"Your brain only has four minutes it can go without oxygen before it begins losing cells. Early response is very important," she said.

"About 75 percent of people who perform CPR or Heimlich perform it on a family member or a friend, because that's who you're around most of the time. The life you save could be one of your loved ones."

For more information about Red Cross first aid classes, call 735-7201.