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Baby choking!

UW-River Falls Music Department program assistant Denise Shambour tells the story of how training she almost didn't take helped her save a small baby's life. Debbie Griffin photo

Denise Shambour said she froze for a few seconds when the head waitress at a restaurant where she was eating loudly declared: "Baby choking!"

"I was at a table way in the back, so couldn't see very well," Shambour said.

She'd not been at Sunni's Grille in Howard Lake, Minn., long that Sunday morning but had noticed commotion at a large table where a family was finishing its meal. Shambour had seen them passing around a very small baby, obviously concerned that it wasn't feeling well.

She had seen the anxious waitress react as she decided whether to "call it."

Once she did, Shambour said she waited a few seconds to see if anyone more qualified than her would jump in to help. But they didn't.

She'd just finished first-aid training 12 days before that -- a free program offered through UW-River Falls, where she's worked for eight years. She wondered aloud to her fellow diners that morning if she should go help or not.

They fretted about the potential liability of helping. Shambour said her brain kicked in and she told her husband, who was sitting beside her: "Move!"

By then the family had moved outside the door and was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher. Shambour made her way over and followed protocol by asking, "Hi, I know first aid, may I help you?"

Shambour said she remembers the baby's apparent grandmother saying, "Please do," the baby's mother looking worried and agreeing the baby was still not well and the baby's father thinking she'd be fine.

Clearly the infant was struggling to breathe and turning blue. The family had been tipping her forward trying to dislodge whatever was choking her.

Shambour recalls that it seemed like each time they tipped the baby forward, the obstacle would dislodge for a second and the child would cry and seem better. But as soon as the baby came to an upright position again, she'd struggle for air again.

Shambour forgets who was holding the infant but remembers saying to them, "Give me the baby." She formed a "V" with her fingers and put the child into position, lying on its stomach across her arm.

Three firm pats on the back produced vomit, and the last two brought forth the obstacle.

The baby's mother exclaimed, "It's a sticker!"

Shambour said she brought the infant upright to check her vital signs and noticed her color returning. She said it gave her chills as the child turned toward her and took a big, deep breath.

"Thank God it worked," is all the rescuer could think to herself.

The family, still on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, told the person with relief to cancel the emergency call. Shambour said after handing the baby back to its mother, she excused herself to the restroom.

Shaking and shocked, she washed her hands and returned to her table. She said before they left, the baby's family members stopped by to say, "Thank you."

Training instills confidence

Shambour said she almost didn't make to the free first aid training session sponsored by the university's Safety Committee and given by Larry Hennemann of the Help A Heart organization. The hour-long session included lessons about administering CPR and the Heimlich maneuver and using an automatic external defibrillator (AED).

She and a friend, both potentially grandmothers in the future, had increased interest in the first-aid training for babies. The two approached the trainer after class ended, asking more about it.

Shambour said Hennemann worked with them an extra 15 minutes to get them comfortable treating the baby (doll). She said her friend tried the stop-choking technique first.

The instructor told her to pat the doll's back harder, then asked Shambour to try. Though she has disabilities that limit how much she can use her arms, Shambour gave the doll five hard whacks.

As she finished, her instructor said, "Yes, just like that!"

Shambour says without that demonstration, she probably wouldn't have had the confidence to work on a real baby. She'd feared her strength would limit her ability but was proven wrong.

"God gave me a baby to save, and I could do that," she said.

A sheet Hennemann passed out at training entitled, "No One Told Me," really helped Shambour be prepared. She knew about the vomit and that she'd feel shaky and somewhat in shock.

Shambour said as she reflected on the event, it seemed almost like destiny. She remembers enjoying a lazy Sunday morning but suddenly being really ready to leave for the restaurant.

Her family even asked her if she was going "like that," without a shower or clothes change.

"I felt an urgency to go (to the restaurant)," she said.

She advocates the training as worthy for anyone, even if they think they couldn't help. She mentioned that a paid four-hour training session is coming up (see related sidebar).

Shambour points out that even someone who doesn't have the physical strength to perform first aid could still learn the techniques, then coach another to do them.

CPR training saves lives

Larry Hennemann of Help A Heart, LLC, will teach three CPR certification classes at UW-River Falls, all from 6-10 p.m.:

  • Tuesday, Oct. 28
  • Monday, Nov. 3
  • Wednesday, Nov. 5

    Classes take place in the Chippewa Room of the University Center and cost $60 payable by check only, made out to UW-River Falls. The class price includes training, a booklet and a mask. Class sizes are limited to 12 people, and those interested in registering should send their check and date preference to Connie Smith at UW-River Falls/410 S. Third St./Room 25H/ North Hall/River Falls/WI/54022. Students successfully completing the training will get a certification card from the American Heart Association.

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