Family's choking tragedy leads to life-saving movement

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If someone was choking, would you know what to do? (WPVI)

If someone was choking, would you know what to do?

A family in Delaware is hoping more people - especially restaurant workers - learn how to help.

Sympathy cards are still out on display wishing comfort to Millard Davis and his family. He lost his wife, Catherine, just six weeks ago.

"Well Catherine actually was the most wonderful, kind person I knew," said Millard Davis, Catherine's husband.



She and Millard were together 30 years, traveling and spending a lot time with family. She was out with Davis celebrating their anniversary, an early dinner at a nice restaurant.

"Towards the end of the dinner, she got a little quiet," said Davis.

Then he says she got up.

"I knew something was wrong. I didn't know what was wrong," said Davis.

He says she didn't grab her throat to indicate choking, but it turns out she was choking. He yelled for someone to call 911.

The timing of what happened next is a bit fuzzy. He says a worker did come over and tried to do the Heimlich maneuver, now called abdominal thrusts, but by the time that happened, Catherine had passed out. She was unconscious, and Davis says no one knew what to do.


An ambulance arrived. Emergency workers tried to save her, but too much time had passed.

It only takes 4 to 6 minutes without oxygen for brain damage to start. Catherine died at the hospital after choking on a piece of lobster.

"We all had the same question: What happened? How did this happen?" said Patty Hartman, Catherine's daughter. "And that's how we came to find out that restaurants don't have to have people on staff that know CPR or the Heimlich."

Patty Hartman, Catherine's daughter, is now trying to change that.

She has Delaware State Rep. Bryon Short looking into the issue.

Several states, including New Jersey, have laws that require restaurants to display posters like on how to help someone choking.

A few states go a step further, requiring staff be trained on how to help.


There are no such laws in Pennsylvania or Delaware.

Short says he's working with the Delaware Restaurant Association to find a workable solution.

"The more people that know how to respond in an emergency situation like this, the better off we all are," said Rep. Bryon Short.

"I would love to see not only more restaurant workers trained, but our community in general trained and aware that they, too, can make a difference in somebody's life," said Theresa Young, American Red Cross, Delmarva Chapter.

"It just seems like a no-brainer that a restaurant would be a place where people are trained in CPR and the Heimlich," said Patty Hartman.

The family will never know for sure if CPR had been started, if it would've saved Catherine. But they do want to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else.

The Red Cross offers classes to the public.
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