Principal Wilch's quick action helps save student's life

by Tim Troglen | reporter Published:

Hudson -- Boy Scout training and quick action by a high school principal Aug. 22 helped save the life of a Hudson High School freshman who was choking on a piece of food lodged in his throat.

Hudson High School Principal Brian Wilch was "in the right place at the right time," when a student, with his hands on his neck, approached Wilch Aug. 22 during the school's second lunch period.

The student, who Wilch said had participated in a summer Boy Scout excursion and had a working knowledge of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, was choking on a piece of food. The student knew enough to use the "universal choking sign," Wilch said.

"Are you choking?" Wilch asked the student.

The student nodded. Wilch could also tell the freshman was in distress by the look on his face.

"I spun him around and applied the Heimlich several times -- each time a bit harder," Wilch said. "He's not a very big kid; I'm a really big kid, so I was concerned about breaking a rib."

After five or six compressions, the food dislodged.

"This was right in front of the snack bar in the commons, so I helped him get to inside the kitchen serving area to have a seat and we got him some water and cleaned up his face," Wilch said. "We immediately escorted the young man to the clinic where our nurse, Natalie Bilinovich, checked him out and contacted parents. Incidentally, Natalie had a similar incident a few years ago with student in her clinic choking on candy--with the same outcome."

After being checked out by the nurse, the student decided to return to class and finish the day.

"Thank goodness we've all had the training required so we know what to do and no one panicked," Wilch added. "I felt relieved, anxious, and proud, all at the same time. I'll concede that my heart was pumping."

Wilch was impressed with the student, who while choking, had the "know how and courage to do what he did."

Wilch said it is tough to imagine what could have happened if the student, or any student going through a similar situation, panicked or out of embarrassment went alone into a restroom stall.

Wilch learned a variety of lifesaving techniques when he was a coach, and has kept current on the latest trends and training in his 23 years as an administrator.

"I've always kept current on CPR, automated external defibrillators and health-related trainings," he said. "The Heimlich maneuver has always been part of that training so I knew what to do--the training gives one confidence to do the right thing and not panic."

Wilch believes most of the staff and a "significant percentage of students know what to do" in similar situations. The training is taught in health classes, he said.

Wilch offered a few suggestions to anyone who may find themselves in a similar situation. The most important thing is to not panic.

"Signal to the closest person using the universal choking sign," Wilch said. "And, if someone needs your help due to choking, apply what you've learned. If you don't know how to administer the Heimlich--make that a priority; contact any one of our health teachers or stop by the clinic, and we can train you."

The student's mom called Wilch late that day to thank him.

"That was appreciated," Wilch said. "In the back of my mind, I'm thinking that this could have been my son or daughter and how I would want someone to step in and help when they're in need . . . and that's the essence of our jobs as educators--to look out for our students and treat them like our own."

School Communication Manager Sheryl Sheatzley said "our administrators and teachers are on the front lines every day."

"We have watched them, over and over, do everything they can to help and protect our students," she added. "This is a wonderful example of their dedication and knowledge, and we are very grateful for that this student was OK."

Email: ttroglen@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9435

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