To understand this column, you will need to think like a seventh-grader.
Just over a week ago, 12-year-old Colten Cranford emerged from the cafeteria at Ripon’s Park View Elementary looking to catch up with his buddies, who already had finished lunch and were headed toward the playground.
He took a bite of his sandwich as he walked, and a piece of it got stuck in his throat. Suddenly, Colten couldn’t breathe, which means he also couldn’t talk. He tried to run to where more people were, but that wasn’t working very well, either.
Schoolmates Troy Brogan and Seth Beeler came out of the restroom and saw him in distress. Colten used his hands to show them he was choking. At first, Troy thought he was kidding.
“But his face was getting really red,” Troy said. So he sent Seth off to find a yard-duty assistant. Then, he grabbed Colten and administered the Heimlich maneuver.
Indeed, he was well trained.
“I’ve seen them do it on TV,” Troy said.
The first attempt failed. He realized he had gripped too high around Colten’s chest. So he lowered his arms and tried a second time, lifting the smaller boy completely off the ground. The chunk of food came out. Air came in, and just in time.
“He was going to do it a third time and I told him, “Don’t! I’m OK,” Cranford said. They yelled for Seth to cancel his search for a yard-duty assistant.
The boys took a few seconds to catch their respective breaths. Then, they did what seventh-graders do after an emergency.
“We went out to play football,” Troy said.
See what I mean? They acted as only young boys would act, brushing off the potential danger and downplaying the heroism.
After the bell rang and he returned to class, Troy mentioned casually to his teacher that he had just saved a kid’s life. Yeah, right, the teacher no doubt thought.
Colten told yard-duty aides the same.
News of the episode didn’t reach Principal Mona Ogden because the adults on campus probably were a bit skeptical.
“They didn’t realize how serious it could have been,” Odgen said. “I don’t think the kids realized how serious it could have been, either.”
Choking is very serious, at the least, and can be deadly. A decade ago, newly-elected Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour, 63 years young at the time, got the scare of his life when he began choking on a piece of meat at dinner one night. The Heimlich maneuver didn’t work. Ridenour had to be hospitalized.
But seventh-grader Colten bounced back with the resilience of, well, a seventh-grader. He instantly looked perfectly normal – not like someone who just seconds earlier could have choked to death.
That night, he told his mother, Lindsay Cuartilon, what had happened – how he had choked on the sandwich and how Troy had applied the Heimlich maneuver. Mom thought he might be exaggerating until Colten said, “I feel like I owe him something.”
So Cuartilon sent an email to Principal Odgen, commending Troy for saving her son’s life, and incredulous that another seventh-grader had reacted so decisively and correctly.
“I didn’t know if he’d had training,” she said. “He just grabbed Colten and did it. And he did it perfectly. He didn’t break any ribs.”
Her email was the first Ogden had heard of the episode. She called both boys into the office and asked them tell her what had happened. Like everyone else, she also was skeptical at first. But while both boys shrugged off the seriousness of it, they insisted it happened, and Ogden believes them. She emailed Jen and Paul Brogan, Troy’s parents, confirming to them what Troy had mentioned casually at home that Friday night.
So what prompted him to act so promptly? After all, his only “training” was watching actors on TV.
“In order to do something,” Troy explained, “you need to react first. You can’t just freeze. If someone is really hurt, you need to react fast.”
Jen Brogan posted on her social media page, saying how proud she was of Troy. Dad bought him a new baseball bat.
“I get the praise and he (Colten) gets the (take-smaller-bites) lecture,” Troy joked.
Two things impressed Ogden: That Colten instinctively put his hands to his throat to convey he was choking when he couldn’t otherwise communicate, and that Troy so quickly realized it was for real and effectively applied a maneuver he had only seen on TV.
“Good problem-solving,” the principal said. “They took care of the situation, sat down and regrouped.”
Some parents are overprotective of their children and micromanage every aspect of their lives so reaction doesn’t come naturally because it isn’t allowed.
Such wasn’t the case this time.
“We’re proud of Troy,” said dad Paul Brogan, Modesto Junior College’s basketball coach. “You think, ‘What if that was Troy (choking) and nobody was there to help him?’ ”
That is how a parent thinks. Seventh-graders? They just catch their breath and head out to play football.