The fast action of a (WMS) sixth grader likely saved the life of his longtime friend, using skills he had learned in school just a few months earlier.
Twelve-year-old Varisht Nellicherry was enjoying lunch Thursday in the WMS cafeteria with his friends when, suddenly, he began to choke.
“I was eating a sandwich, talking with my friends and we were laughing a lot,” Nellicherry said, when a piece of that sandwich “got stuck in my throat and I couldn’t breathe.”
Sitting next to Nellicherry was 12-year-old Marty Propper, a fellow sixth grader and close friend since second grade.
“He suddenly jumped up and did the universal choking sign,” placing two hands around his neck, Propper said. Upon realizing that his friend wasn’t faking, Propper sprung to action and performed the Heimlich Maneuver, a life-saving technique he had learned in health class in January.
“Mrs. [June] Gordon [a WMS assistant principal and the lunchroom monitor that day] came over because she thought I was beating him up,” Propper remembered, laughing, but by that time the morsel had been dislodged and Nellicherry was regaining his breath.
“There was a lot of adrenalin flowing” for the 30 seconds or so while he was choking, Nellicherry said, with his first thoughts being, “It’s not going down, why isn’t it going down?”
Once the realization of what was happening struck him, “One thought kept going through my mind,” he said: “Don’t die, don’t die, don’t die.”
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Though Nellicherry was in a panic, when he saw Propper move to action, he knew he would be OK.
“I knew Marty would have been paying attention [in health class] and would know what to do,” he said.
Propper was paying attention in class and did know what to do, though at first the situation nearly got the better of him.
“I was extremely nervous and didn’t know what to do,” Propper recalled, however that only lasted for “a half-second.”
Nellicherry recovered without incident, spending a little time in the nurse’s office but staying in school the rest of the day. Luckily, there was no lasting damage or broken ribs.
“I was relieved and proud of myself,” Propper said after the fact, adding that he got a hug and a handshake from Principal Deane Renda and another hug from his health teacher, Joanne Thompson. “It makes me feel good, inside and out.”
“It was a death defying moment,” Nellicherry said, adding that his knees were shaking uncontrollably afterward but that he was feeling better soon enough.
For a young man, the situation has given Propper a stark perspective: “Don’t take life for granted.”