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RACINE — Registered nurses Gary Krause and John Sickler have had their fair share of experiences tending to emergencies, but little did they know when visiting the Racine Zoo this past week, that their skills would be put to the test when Sickler himself began choking.

Krause and his three-year-old grandson met his friend and former co-worker Sickler and his two children, who are four and eight years old, at the zoo for a day of fun and animal observation.

Unexpected distress at lunch

When it was time for lunch, the group paused their adventures to dine at the zoo’s cafe.

While enjoying their meals Sickler suddenly began to choke.

At the lunch table, John was unable to make a sound to notify someone that he was in distress. However, his intuitive thinking led him to snap his fingers to signal that something was wrong.

“And because there’s nobody else (in the) restaurant, he looked at me…he pointed to his throat… and he pointed outside,” shares Krause.

Krause may be retired, but as soon he saw John in need, Gary’s nursing duties picked up right where they left off.

Krause comforted Sickler as the incident was happening, but as it progressed, the pair made their way outside.

It was during this time that John was able to cough a bit, although, he wasn’t in the clear yet.

Up until this point, he didn’t have any intervention except having Krause’s eyes locked onto him.

Universal choking sign led to Heimlich maneuver

Things changed when the coughing sounds John was making turned to silence.

“All sudden he coughed up again and he just turned beet red,” says Krause. “He did the universal choke sign and put his thumbs up. What was so neat is he just backed up, put his arms up in the air and I thrusted once, and out it came,” explained Krause, who performed the Heimlich maneuver.

After Krause saved Sickler, John thanked his fellow friend and former coworker.

“We didn’t think nothing of it. He said ‘Hey, thanks.’ I said ‘Hey, no problem. You’d do the same thing for me.’ And then we went back in to the kids,” shares Krause.

While there is never a good time to choke, the collective energy and awareness led the nurses to navigate what could’ve been a life-threatening emergency, smoothly.

“We’ve done CPR a countless number of times and codes together,” shares the retired nurse.

For Gary and John, nothing really compares to when an emergency is happening outside the hospital setting and with your peer.

“We sat down and he drank something and I finished eating,” shares Krause.

He recalls having a conversation with John about how stunned they were about the event that had just occurred and how smoothly they handled it.

“You don’t ever expect it,” says Krause.

Thankfully, after some time, they were able to enjoy the rest of the day at the zoo with their loved ones.

Nurses advocate for education

Even though the choking incident was resolved, both nurses couldn’t help but think about how important it is to be educated when it comes to CPR, knowing the Heimlich maneuver, recognizing the universal choking sign, and how to intervene when necessary.

It’s a conversation that the two nurses urge the community to have and a topic they want people to be aware of.

choking response care

Krause provides rescue tips and reminder

Krause provides the following tips to help further the conversation about rescue efforts:

  • Talk to children and family at the supper table about emergency measures
    • CPR
    • Heimlich maneuver
  • Take a class through the American Red Cross
  • Practice the Heimlich maneuver and CPR
    • Put a pillow on a chair and do the motion
    • Put a pillow on the ground and perform the motion
  • Watch YouTube videos about the topic
  • Be aware of your surroundings and know the signs
  • If someone is in distress and leaves the room, follow that person
  • Seek medical attention during or after a choking episode

Learn more safety measures online about first aid.

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