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Lifesaving experience: ETSU cardiopulmonary student saves choking customer

Contributed • Nov 29, 2019 at 5:25 PM

Kloey McCarter’s two worlds – as a senior in East Tennessee State University’s Cardiopulmonary Science program and as a server at Logan’s Roadhouse in Johnson City – collided earlier this month when she saved the life of a customer who was choking on a piece of steak.

McCarter, a Gatlinburg native who plans to graduate from ETSU’s College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences in May 2020, works as a server at the restaurant. She was in the middle of a busy Friday night rush when the training she received as a student at ETSU was put to the test.

“There was a family sitting near the back of the restaurant, not in my section,” McCarter said. “I was getting drinks for another table, and I hear someone say, ‘My mother cannot breathe. I need a doctor; I need help.’ ”

As a student in ETSU’s cardiopulmonary (respiratory therapy) bachelor’s program, McCarter has training in CPR and the Heimlich maneuver. Students in this program are also taught to perform a host of other procedures such as intubation, running codes, chest compressions, arterial blood draws to help maintain oxygen content in the blood and breathing treatments.

In clinic, she has performed life-saving procedures under the supervision of her preceptor. However, this was the first time she was faced with this type of breathing crisis outside of a clinical setting.

“During clinics, you’re always a little hesitant to step forward because you’re a student,” McCarter said. “But that night at work, I was not given the option to step to the side. I knew I had to do something, or someone was going to die.”

When McCarter first saw the choking customer, the woman was still conscious. McCarter looked for her manager to make sure he was aware of what was happening, and then she returned to find another customer from one of her tables – who was a local police chief – performing the Heimlich maneuver. By this time, the woman was unresponsive.

“He laid her down so I could listen to her the best that I could without my stethoscope, and I just heard a little air movement – her airway was not completely obstructed, but she was in trouble,” McCarter said. “I felt her pulse and it was starting to decrease. He kept patting her back, and I called out to someone to get me some gloves so that I could check her throat.”

McCarter asked the woman’s family what her name was, and then spoke directly to her, trying to get her to cough; she hoped that the gag reflex or a cough would bring up whatever was blocking her airway. Finally, all of the efforts paid off and the woman, who was responsive again, coughed up a large piece of steak.

The woman was even able to speak before leaving the restaurant in an ambulance.

“I would not have been able to do what I did without the training I received at ETSU,” McCarter said. “I did what was in my power to do, and I am just glad it turned out the way it did.”

McCarter’s manager applauded her quick, lifesaving skills and even sent an email to the district manager, praising her work.

“Kloey McCarter as a server has professional training and sprang into action,” said manager Vince Seery. “I have rarely been so proud of a team, but Kloey specifically.”

Her CCRHS faculty were also proud of McCarter’s actions.

“Kloey is a wonderful student and truly excels in the clinical environment,” said Dr. Kristen McHenry, director of clinical education and assistant professor. “She is eager to learn and enjoys the fast-paced environment of health care. She believes in a team-centered approach to care and works hard at placing patients and their families at ease during stressful times of illness or injury.

“She has a heart for service, and I look forward to her entering the profession of respiratory care. She represents herself, the Cardiopulmonary Science program, and ETSU well. We are thrilled she could provide lifesaving measures to this individual in need.”

To learn more about the Cardiopulmonary Science program, visit www.etsu.edu/crhs/allied-health/cpsc.

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