January 31, 2014 — At Jackson Heights elementary, students and staff are always on the lookout for “Action Jacksons”—individuals who seize an opportunity to make a difference for others. And Teacher Aide Kathy Holser made a big difference—earning the title of “Hero of the Day”—for her action last Friday that helped a choking student.
Mrs. Holser was supervising breakfast in the school cafeteria and had just looked away from the lunch tables to speak with another staff member when first-grader Owen Harrington came up to her from behind.
“I was standing on the side of the cafeteria, and I felt a tugging on the back of my shirt,” said Mrs. Holser. “I turned around and it was Owen, and he couldn’t talk. There were tears in his eyes. I asked him if he was choking and he nodded.”
Mrs. Holser described the team effort that ensued, with Aide Marcia Fitzgerald recognizing that Owen was choking, and Aide Deena Landon running to get the nurse. Right away, Mrs. Holser prepared to give Owen the Heimlich maneuver by turning him towards a garbage can.
“My son is a lifeguard, so we’ve talked about emergency responses before,” said Mrs. Holser. “I knew you need to go between the naval and the breast bone. People think it’s the stomach, but it’s not – it’s up higher. I found where his breastbone was, made a fist with the thumb side toward the body, and popped up and in.”
“Then I heard him cough. He was facing the garbage can, so I couldn’t see, but as soon as I heard him cough, I knew he was okay.”
Mrs. Holser picked Owen up to bring him to the nurse’s office, and then heard him make another sound. She asked him if he was okay, and he said “yes.”
“The nurse was running down the hallway and I called, ‘we’re cool! He’s talking – we’re okay!’” said Mrs. Holser. “And then I just walked him down the hallway and came back.”
While Mrs. Holser is modest about her actions, Principal Carrie Mauro calls her a real hero and sent out a district-wide message praising her for her heroism. Owen and his family also gave Mrs. Holser a card and a rose.
“I just did what anyone would have done,” Mrs. Holser said. “I think the real hero here is Owen, because he didn’t panic. He didn’t stay at the table. He didn’t wait for someone to come to him. He stayed calm enough to get to an adult.”