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January 30, 2012
Medic uses forceps to reach steak blocking Pa. man's airway
By Chuck Biedka
NATRONA, Pa. — Richard Orkwis remembers walking past the plate, plucking up a piece of steak and popping it into his mouth.
He can't remember what happened next.
"He almost died," said his wife, Mindy.
Orkwis' face went blue from the lack of oxygen caused by the meat lodged in his throat, said one paramedic who answered the call to his Natrona home just after midnight on Jan. 9.
Football fans Richard and Mindy Orkwis lamented the overtime loss of the Steelers to the Broncos while they enjoyed their favorite dinner, tenderloin steak, in their upstairs bedroom.
They turned in early; next day it was back to work.
Later, Orkwis, 56, woke up and headed for the bathroom. As he walked past a dresser, he picked up the bite of steak as he headed toward the hallway.
Then he collapsed.
Mindy tried to dislodge the food. "I got scared and called 911," she said.
Citizen Hose emergency medical technician Jim Erb arrived first, followed by EMT Jim Bartolovich and paramedic Matt Rusiewicz.
"I tried abdominal thrusts. They didn't work. I looked for an obstruction and, just then, Matt came in," Erb recalls.
"He was blue in the face and gasping when I arrived," Rusiewicz said.
He had to use forceps and another tool to reach the blockage that was deep in Orkwis' throat.
"It started to fall apart and that caused a brief problem, but I was able to get the meat out and clear the airway," Rusiewicz said.
Most of what happened is a mystery to Orkwis.
"God bless these guys. They saved my life. I'm happy to live to tell about it," Orkwis said.
"I remember getting up at 12 a.m. and getting the piece of meat. I guess I chewed a couple of times instead of 52 times and swallowed," he said. "I don't remember the next 25 minutes when I started to wake up in the ambulance and then I was in the hospital."
He spent the day getting tests in Allegheny Valley Hospital in Harrison.
Erb said the Citizen Hose crew was assisted greatly by Allegheny County 911 employees George Bitz and Denila Parrish as Orkwis' condition grew more serious.
Orwis was indeed flirting with death, said Dr. Tom McClure, an internal medical specialist and chief medical officer for Allegheny Valley Hospital.
"The people who are at the most risk are people under (age) 1 and over 75, but choking can happen to anyone," he said.
Lack of oxygen for four minutes or more puts people in danger of brain damage and death, he said.
Orkwis, the father of two, said he feels blessed and is happy to be back at Glassmere Fuels, where he has worked for 27 years.
Even after the ordeal, he still loves steak.
"We had it three days later and it was great," he said.
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