Teen Saves Choking Classmate

Wojciech Panek performed Heimlich Maneuver on classmate, friend

By Dick Johnson
|  Wednesday, Feb 22, 2012  |  Updated 8:45 PM CDT
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Simon Perez was sitting in the back of his sophomore geometry class when he suddenly began choking on a slice of orange given to him by a girl. Another classmate came to his rescue.

Simon Perez was sitting in the back of his sophomore geometry class when he suddenly began choking on a slice of orange given to him by a girl. Another classmate came to his rescue.

Students in Northlake got a real-world lesson last week as to why it's important to pay attention in class.

What began as a nice gesture -- a gift of a bit of orange from a girl -- turned into several scary moments for 16-year-old Simon Perez. Perez was sitting in the back of his sophomore geometry class at West Leyden High School on Feb. 15 when he suddenly began choking.

"She gives me like this two-wedge piece, and I don't know, something happened and it got stuck in my throat," he recalled Wednesday. "I was like, 'I need to get this out fast. I might die.'"

Across the classroom sat Wojciech Panek, who didn't panic when he heard a girl scream, "He's choking."

Panek said he didn't take his friend seriously at first "because he always jokes around." But Perez was serious, he just couldn't say so.

In fact, he said he was more scared than he's ever been, even more than when he was a little kid visiting family in Mexico. He was shooting baby snakes with a sling shot just as the mother snaked reared her head and hissed.

This time, Perez said he felt his face turning red. "I couldn't get any air," he said.

Geometry teacher Kari Stutzman sprang into action and pressed the emergency button to summon school security, and what happened next is the kind of practical application of classroom learning about which teachers dream.

The teacher's dramatic reaction convinced Panek that what he was seeing was real, so he sprang into action.

"I ran over to him and got him to stand up and I gave him the Heimlich Maneuver," said Panek.

Panek and Perez are actually good friends, and had each taken the school's required wellness and safety class last fall when the Heimlich Maneuver was taught.

"So he does the Heimlich two times and then it got out," Perez recalled. 

And when the orange came out, it created not only a happy ending, but a funny one.

"The girl was right next to me and when I spit it out, it hit her in the face," he said, laughing a bit.

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