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June 25, 2010

Calif. woman saves husband 2 days after learning CPR

By Lisa Fernandez
The San Jose Mecury News

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Michelle Kahihikolo was persuaded to take a CPR and basic first aid class last week by an old elementary school friend who happens to be a San Jose firefighter.

Friday, two days after she took the class, she saved her husband from choking to death.

"It was really great that I had that CPR training," said the 31-year-old Kahihikolo. "None of us panicked. We all stayed calm."

Her instructor, Mike Gomez, a fire engineer on Truck 16 and a longtime CPR instructor, couldn't be more thrilled.

"She texted me that she didn't freak out," Gomez said. "It's really self-gratifying."

On June 16, Kahihikolo, who is clerical support employee at the fire department, took Gomez's free class. Last year, the CPR program was cut from the fire department's budget, but was revived for this one day because of an upcoming recertification audit.

Gomez said he was trying to drum up students for the one-time training, and bugged his old friend to sign up, saying the training was important.

On Friday, Kahihikolo went camping near Paso Robles with her husband, Tim, 41, and two kids, ages 5 and 7, and another family. About 8:30 p.m., Tim and friend Jason Catalano were grilling up dinner steak burritos when her husband choked on a piece of meat.

"He came over to me and started pointing to his throat," Kahihikolo said, adding that he wasn't speaking.

She got behind him and gave two abdominal thrusts. But her motions weren't forceful enough. She asked Catalano to thrust. But Catalano's fists weren't in the right position. So she, and Catalano's wife, Cherry, who was also trained in airway obstruction techniques, advised him where to place his hands. Two more thrusts, and Jim vomited enough so that he started breathing, although the piece of meat was now lodged slightly lower down his throat.

Kahihikolo said she and her husband drove to a nearby hospital, where he stayed, finally being able to swallow down the piece of meat at 3 a.m., after his esophageal muscles relaxed with pain killers.

In the last month, there have been at least two lifesaving moments in Santa Clara County. One was June 4, when Santa Clara County sheriff's deputies helped a woman in a Morgan Hill Sizzler who was choking on a piece of roast beef. And Monday, deputies from the same department also saved the life of a 17-day-old baby by performing CPR on her in Campbell, after she had stopped breathing after her airway was clogged with mucus.

Gomez, the CPR instructor from the San Jose Fire Department, said he often starts his training classes by telling his students to pay close attention to the textbooks and the videos. That way, he advises them, when the true chaos sets in, their skills and knowledge will hopefully kick in. He points to Kahihikolo as the perfect example of that.

"Hopefully, they'll know the skills so well, like Michelle," Gomez said, "that they can perform the task and worry about their emotions later."

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