COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - There's a lot of laughter within the Porterfield family. A stark contrast to what happened in a restaurant a few years back when Greg and Gale and their son, Nicholas, were having lunch and realized Greg was in trouble.
"He's motioning to me and pointing to his throat and I'm like 'what's wrong?' and he couldn't speak. He just kept motioning to his throat," says Gale.
"She asked, 'Can you breathe?' I start panicking a little bit," says Greg.
Choking - usually on food - is the fourth leading cause of death in adults.
Gale says, "I start screaming the name of Jesus and for somebody to help us."
The chef at the Japanese restaurant tried to help, but he had his arms wrapped around Greg's chest. That's not the proper Heimlich maneuver technique.
"One of the ladies at our table jumped up, got the chef out of the way and she later said 'I knew he wasn't doing it right.' And she pushed him out of the way and she grabbed Greg and probably pressed on him two times and the food just pops out," says Gale.
Dr. Lauren Matthews of Lexington Medical Center says that's the usual number needed. She demonstrates the Heimlich. "A good marker is to feel the bellybutton. So this is her belly button and I'm going to go right above it like that and then go in and up."
The Heimlich alone is safe and effective for adults and teenagers - NOT always on children and especially never on babies as it could damage their fragile organs.
At Lexington Pediatric Practice, Dr. Matthews says parents should know a technique of five back pats, five abdominal thrusts. For a child, get down on their level and use the back pats and Heimlich.
Dr. Matthews says, "Have them bend forward and, again, you are going to provide the five back pats and you don't really turn them over. You do more of the traditional Heimlich where you come around them, around their bellybutton, and do the abdominal thrusts. Do five and five again."
The treatment for a 7-week-old or 7-month old is a different approach. An infant's windpipe is about the size of a straw. So think about how small that is; it really takes very little to actually clog it. Choking in children three years of age and under is a leading cause of death.
"So taking the baby's hand between your thumb and forefinger, you want to turn them over with their head down below their trunk and provide five good back pats right here and then you take them over supporting their head in their body take them over and provide five abdominal thrust like that," says Dr. Matthews.
So again.. a choking 7-month-old -- five pats and five abdominal thrusts with two fingers. A choking 7-year-old -- five pats and five Heimlich thrusts. A choking 17-year-old or 77-year-old, use a stronger force of the Heimlich. With all ages and sizes, first make sure they're actually choking before you take physical action.
Dr. Matthews says, "If an infant, a child, an adult, any age person is coughing and looks like they are choking, let them cough. That reflex is going to be better than any kind of intervention we can provide. When you need to intervene is whenever the baby starts to look like they are in distress. So in an infant, that is going to be a weak cry, a weak cough or if they are opening their mouth and it looks like they are not taking in any air."
For Greg and Gale, they're beyond grateful for the woman who knew what to do.
"Sounds dramatic but I could not breathe and so if she had not done that, I wouldn't be here. So, 'grateful' is an understatement," says Greg.
Gale responded, "I knew he was going to die. I mean I was terrified. And after that, he was fine."
And if you're choking and you're by yourself? Doctors say place your fist above your navel. Put your other hand on top. Lean over a chair or countertop and drive your fists in and upward.