Linda Ramsey, a nurse at Memorial Medical Center and a teacher in Modesto Junior College's nursing program, was out of town when her 10-year-old son, Andrew Jolliff, choked on a soft pencil grip in his fourth-grade classroom at Hickman Community Charter School.
"It lodged in his trachea, and he passed out," Linda said.
She is thankful for the teacher and classroom aide, who saw him as he blacked out at his desk. The aide, who happens to be a family friend and was closest to Andrew, started doing the Heimlich maneuver on him immediately. Meanwhile, a girl in the class ran next door to ask teacher Charley Garza to come.
"Everyone said Charley was in the air," Linda said. "They said he flew over desks to get to Andrew."
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Charley, she said, has a son with "choking issues" and knows the Heimlich well. He took over for the aide, but didn't have any better luck, until Andrew finally "stiffened up and vomited."
Meanwhile, Linda said, the teacher had "the presence of mind to take the rest of the students out to the playground" and away from the terrifying ordeal. "They were crying and telling each other what a good friend Andrew is," Linda said, tearing up as she recalled the incident nearly three weeks ago.
Andrew was taken by ambulance to Memorial Medical Center. The principal, Rusty Wynn, followed in his car. Another school official told Linda's other child, daughter Christa Jolliff, a sixth-grader at Hickman, what had happened so she wouldn't hear the news secondhand.
Later in the day, hospital staffers arranged to let Andrew get on the phone to the school's public address system to say, in a scratchy voice, "Hi, everybody. I'm OK." That way, the other students could go home knowing he was alive and well, Linda said.
"I haven't been able to sit in the bathroom and cry by myself yet," she said. "I'm still on the verge of tears. If Charley hadn't been there ... ." She couldn't complete the thought.
Linda and her husband, Darold Jolliff, are very thankful for "just the whole way the whole community from Hickman to Modesto rallied to take care of us all as a family," she said.
Linda went to the school on Friday to present "Lifesaver awards" to those involved in the incident. She first found out what kind of plant each person liked, then decorated them with Lifesaver candy.
Louis and Margaret DeMott-Feldman retired from teaching in the spring "with a combined 65 years in public education."
They recently established the Future Teacher of Excellence scholarship at California State University, Stanislaus. The annual scholarship will go to a graduate of a Stanislaus County high school who has completed a bachelor's degree and has been admitted to the teacher credential program. Other qualifications apply.
"It is a scholarship which we will fund in our retirement and intend to endow," the couple said. "We see it as a commitment to the education of the young and returning students in this county, and to the teaching profession itself."
To learn more, call 667-3808.
Do you have a story about someone who has helped others or is a terrific role model? Send a brief item to Sue Nowicki at P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.