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Plainfield East High School students save choking classmate's life

Several Plainfield East High School students and a teacher saved the life of another student who was choking on a grape in class on Wednesday, February 12, 2020.

During Kristen Lindbeck's English class, sophomore Joshua Virhuez mentioned that he was hungry to his classmate Lisette Vazquez, who then offered Virhuez some of her large red grapes.

Virhuez recalls moving the grape to the side of his mouth so he could take a drink of water.

"I thought I had chewed it, and I drank water and it went down the wrong pipe," he said. "I could feel it go down normally because it was such a big grape. It went down a bit and then it just stopped in my throat."

Vazquez, who was sitting next to him, noticed he was choking almost immediately.

"I knew he had taken the grape and I looked away for a second and when I looked back, he was doing hand motions and his eyes were getting watery and he was turning red," Vazquez said.

She noticed water starting to come out of his mouth, because it couldn't make its way down his throat, and told him to go to the garbage can in the front of the room.

Lindbeck, who was giving a PowerPoint presentation at the front of the room, saw what was happening as Virhuez headed straight for her. At first, she thought he was vomiting, she said, because water was coming from his mouth.

Within seconds, everyone in the room knew that was not the case.

"He actually ran to Mrs. Lindbeck first, but he couldn't talk, and he was grasping for air," Vazquez said.

Virhuez ran to the nearest garbage can and tried unsuccessfully to cough up the grape. Vazquez then started giving him the Heimlich maneuver, and Lindbeck called the school nurse.

Classmate Nicholas Torres noticed Virhuez was still choking despite Vazquez's efforts. Another classmate, Rony Moaad called 911 with the teacher's approval.

"What Lisette was doing was helping, but I could tell it still wasn't getting the grape out of his throat," Torres said. "Lisette is a bit smaller than Josh, so I thought maybe he needed someone who was closer to his size and could do stronger abdominal thrusts."

Torres performed the Heimlich maneuver, but again, it didn't work. He decided to apply back blows, which eventually dislodged the grape.

Vazquez, who earned her CPR certification last semester, said she didn't think twice about jumping into action.

All sophomores must take a CPR class.

Torres said he's thankful he took the class because it helped him save his classmates' life. "I am glad that I was able to help and have the skills I needed to help Josh," he said.

Lindbeck, who is not CPR certified, was glad Torres and Vazquez were in class.

"The fact that we had two students that we able and willing to jump in, so we didn't have to wait for someone else who was certified and knew what to do, made all the difference."

Lindbeck praised her students for saving Virhuez's life.

"These kids are heroes and even after the fact, these students were amazing," she said. "Nick and Josh were not friends before this, and after, they just looked at each other and hugged. To see them embrace one another after was really touching."

O'Brien commended the students and Lindbeck for their quick action to help Virhuez.

"We are so happy and thankful that Josh is healthy and walking the halls at East," O'Brien said. "If not for the actions of three incredibly calm and composed sophomores, we were quite possibly looking at a very different outcome," he said.

For Virhuez, it was a day he will never forget.

"You never know when something like this is going to happen," he said. "I didn't go into third period thinking I would almost die. I am so thankful they jumped into action to help me. Yesterday made me appreciate everything."


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