Honoring a lifesaver

May 16 was just a regular day for Colleen Engel, a fourth-year veterinary student from Spokane. Then, while at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital for her clinical block in community practice, she was suddenly confronted with a woman choking to death.

“Her face was bright red and she was flailing her arms about,” Engel recalled. “She was mouthing the words: ‘can’t breathe.’ “

Engel recognized her as a veterinary client who had recently brought her dog that had been hit by a car into the hospital.

“She then started mouthing ‘choking’ and hitting herself in her throat. Her lips were turning blue, so I turned her around and did the Heimlich technique.  It wasn’t working, so I was going to try thrusting hard onto her back to dislodge the obstruction.  Then she mouthed ‘pacemaker’ and touched her heart. 

“I knew that could also dislodge the pacemaker, so I bent her over my arms. I got a good push with the Heimlich and she brought up a big piece of hard peppermint candy and then she collapsed.  She was exhausted and having a hard time catching her breath.  

Soon after, the EMT’s came and evaluated the woman, Engel said. 

“I sat with her for a while and then she left with her husband to go to her doctor.”

Engel is still overwhelmed by the experience. Her repeated training in CPR  in high school health class, when working at a human hospital, and recently in a refresher course provided the knowledge she needed.

“I never had to do it before,” Engel said.  “I don’t know if I did it right, but it worked for her, and I’m grateful for that.”

She was embarrassed as the story of her lifesaving circulated around campus. She did receive a card and gift basket from the woman whose life she saved.  The basket was filled with lifesaver candies.

In addition, the WSU Chief of Police Steven J. Hansen plans to provide Engel with a Letter of Commendation for her lifesaving exploit at a ceremony later this summer.

To all of this, Engel responds modestly: “In a crisis, you always wonder if you will know what to do.  All of a sudden, it happened and then it was done.  I’m just happy that she did well and glad that I was able to help.”

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Editor’s Note: WSU Red Cross offers CPR and first aid classes at the Student Recreation Center on a regular basis. To register, call 509-335-8732.

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