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Published: 3/13/2002

Schools eye staff trained in Heimlich

BY LUKE SHOCKMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

If a child chokes at Fort Miami Elementary School in Maumee, at least 14 trained staff members are ready to rush to the child's aid.

The staff members received cardiopulmonary resuscitation and Heimlich Maneuver training last month after the school's parent group suggested it. Principal Ann Roberts said it just makes sense to be prepared.

“It's silly not to have somebody trained that's working with kids,” she said.

Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D, Cleveland) agrees, and that's why she sponsored a bill passed 80-16 last month in the Ohio House that would require every school, public and private, to have a Heimlich-trained staff member present whenever food is served to students.

The Senate has yet to act on the bill, which is in the Senate Education Committee.

Michigan doesn't require Heimlich-trained employees to be present when food is served.

Ms. Oakar said a father whose 5-year-old son almost fatally choked asked her to propose the bill. The boy choked during a lunch period in a Cleveland elementary school in April and is recovering from brain injuries; the food stuck in his trachea blocked oxygen to his brain.

“The more I looked into it, the more I saw it happens all the time,” Ms. Oakar said.

More than 2,800 people die every year in the United States from choking, many of them children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 100 choking deaths are reported annually in Ohio; 94 deaths were reported in 1998, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

Four people choked to death in Lucas County last year, according to the county coroner's office.

Jane Bruss, spokeswoman for Toledo Public Schools, said she couldn't recall any choking incidents in the district in recent memory.

However, she said local school officials think the bill is a good idea even though there are concerns about the costs.

The district serves food to students in 63 buildings and several other facilities, so requiring a Heimlich-trained staff member to be present in all those locations might be expensive.

That's the same concern for Donald King, superintendent of Fremont city schools.

He said all of the district's schools, which serve about 5,000 students, have someone trained in the Heimlich Maneuver. However, those employees are not necessarily present in the room where food is served, as the bill would require, Mr. King said.

“To be that specific could be a problem,” he said. “We'd have to make some kind of adjustments, and we might even have to add staff for that particular reason.”

Ms. Oakar maintained that any cost impact would be minimal because local law enforcement, fire department officials, hospitals, and other safety personnel often offer free or reduced-cost training.

Sister Janet Doyle, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Toledo, said she can't recall a choking incident in her schools but said the bill sounded like a good idea.

The Diocese serves 28,000 students in 19 northwest Ohio counties.

“I don't think it [complying with the bill] would be difficult to do,” she said. “It's easy training.”

Warren Russell, deputy executive director of the Ohio School Boards Association, said his organization supports the bill in principle but wants language inserted to shield school officials who perform the Heimlich from lawsuits. Ms. Oakar said she doesn't have any objection to that, and inserting such language could be addressed in the Senate.

Sandy Hendricks, a principal at Hilton Elementary School in Brecksville, Ohio, said she hopes the Legislature passes the bill because she has seen firsthand how important proper training is.

In her five years as principal of the 475-student school south of Cleveland, she's performed the Heimlich on two students who choked on food.

“It's such a simple thing,” she said. “Why would we want to risk losing a life on something so simple?”



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