BY Molly Congdon
CLIFTON PARK— In the beginning of September, Shenendehowa High School senior Jahn Ligon walked up the stairs of his home and encountered something he did not expect: His 13-year-old brother, Dante, stumbled out of the doorway of his room and fell to the ground while holding his throat.
The culprit was a rectangular fruity hard candy, the kind that can easily lodge in a windpipe, that we all know and love — a Jolly Rancher.
“At first I didn’t realize what was going on and then I knew he was choking on something,” Ligon said. “I picked him up and started doing the Heimlich maneuver; I did two pumps, it came flying out of his mouth and he started crying because he was in shock.”
The whole episode took only 10 or 15 seconds from start to finish. “I just acted as fast as possible; I didn’t really think about it,” Ligon remembered. “I never thought I would use CPR in a real-life scenario. I felt great that I was able to save my brother’s life.”
If he hadn’t acted quickly, the situation would have been fatal. When Dante was in elementary school, one of his friends died after choking on one of the same neon-colored candies that almost killed him. His friend had been in the back seat of a car when a Jolly Rancher obstructed his breathing; his mom didn’t know that he was even choking at first.
Ligon has lived in Clifton Park his entire life. His father, Aaron Ligon, is a manager at Benjamin Moore, a paint company, and his mother, Shauna Ligon, is a pharmacist.
His favorite subject is business and he hopes to someday become a successful accountant. To make this goal reality, he will head to Hudson Valley Community College next fall to study business and accounting. Then, he plans to transfer to Syracuse University or the Merchant Marine Academy.
Aside from academics, Ligon spends his time hanging out with his friends, playing video games and spending hours honing his skills as the goalie of the school lacrosse team.
Ligon’s first stop when he returned to Shenendehowa High School East in the fall was to pay a visit to his health teacher from the previous year, Nicole Holehan, who has been teaching health at Shenendehowa for the past 8 1/2 years, to thank her for teaching him the vital first-aid techniques last year.
The Heimlich maneuver, which now goes by the more instructive name of “abdominal thrusts” since the American Heart Association and the Red Cross decided to remove Dr. Henry J. Heimlich’s name from the maneuver, is an emergency procedure that is employed to extricate foreign objects from the throats of choking victims.
It has saved many lives since the 1970s, when Heimlich, an American surgeon, realized that food or other objects lodged in the throat and blocking breathing couldn’t always be freed by the accepted technique of the era, which consisted of hitting the victim a couple of times on the back. He figured out an approach that utilized the air expelled from the victim’s lungs to boost the piece of food up and out of the esophagus.
One child dies from choking on food every five days in the United States, and more than 10,000 kids are taken to the emergency room every year because of food-choking occurrences, according to the state Department of Health. The technique is often taught in conjunction with cardiopulmonary resuscitation, another top life-saving technique.
“Sadly, 70 percent of Americans feel helpless to act during a cardiac emergency because they either do not know how to administer CPR or their training has significantly lapsed,” the American Heart Association’s CPR Statistics Fact Sheet revealed. In bold print at the end of the paragraph the sheet also stated: “Put very simply: The life you save with CPR is mostly likely to be someone you love.”
In Ligon’s situation, these words couldn’t be truer. His training in CPR and the Heimlich maneuver is what saved his brother.
“I always tell my students that CPR is the skill that everybody should know, but hope that they never have to use.” Holehan said. “And choking is one of the most common emergencies that they will probably be involved in. So, obviously it’s important to understand how to resuscitate someone, but also they need to know how to respond in a less drastic situation before it becomes fatal.”
Many students don’t take health class quite as seriously as they do mathematics, chemistry or business. “The kids in my class never really listened or took it seriously,” Ligon said. “And I kind of always thought that if this type of situation ever happened it would be in a public place and I wouldn’t have to do anything, but that wasn’t the case.”
The knowledge and skills acquired during health classes are ones that are important for everyone to be aware of because — as Ligon learned and will tell you — it can be the difference between life and death.
BY Molly Congdon