Dad Makes Critical Rescue

​AJ Vonderembse’s quick thinking and first-aid training helped him save his youngest son, Miller, from a choking accident.

January 31, 2020

First Aid for Choking Infants and Small Children

According to the National Safety Council, choking is one of the leading causes of unintentional death for infants, who require a different rescue procedure than adults. If an infant is choking and unable cry, cough or breathe:

  • Lay the infant face down on your forearm at an angle, resting your arm on your thigh to hold the baby steady and ensure the chin is supported.
  • Using the heel of your free hand, deliver five quick blows right between the infant’s shoulder blades.
  • If the object is not expelled, roll the infant face up, supporting the back of the infant’s head with your hand.
  • Place two fingers on the breastbone and give five quick chest thrusts.
  • Continue cycles of five back blows and five chest thrusts until the object is expelled*.
  • If the infant becomes unresponsive or is found unresponsive, call 911 and begin CPR.

​*An infant or young child experiencing a choking incident should receive follow-up medical attention to ensure there are no injuries to the throat.

AJ Vonderembse admits that until recently he never made the time to attend formal training on first-aid safety or CPR.

“I’ve worked at the West Akron Campus for three years and annual safety training is always available to us that (FirstEnergy employees) Marc Liang and Shaun Grayson coordinate,” said AJ, manager, Fuels and Reagents. “I’m not sure why I never attended before.”

When he decided to attend a December session, he was unaware he’d soon be using knowledge acquired in class to save a precious young life – his own infant son’s.

AJ, who is dad to three children, says a question raised by a fellow participant stuck with him and made a difference in the way events with his son unfolded: “The training focused mostly on adults, but someone asked about child safety, specifically how to rescue a child who is choking. We reviewed the safety procedure for infants and small children, and I learned the Heimlich maneuver – or patting your child on the back – is not the best for young kids. Patting them on the back can cause the object to be lodged deeper, making it more difficult to remove.”

AJ says he was instead instructed to swoop a choking child up, hold the child face down at a downward angle, and administer a series of blows to the top of the back until the object is expelled. (See sidebar)

A mere two weeks after training, he successfully administered the rescue procedure for the first time.

“Our family dog found one of the kids’ toy balls laying around and chewed it to bits,” explained AJ. “Knowing my one-year-old son, Miller, likes to put stuff in his mouth, my wife and I were vigilant about cleaning up all pieces as a precaution. But we missed a piece.”

AJ took out the trash and returned moments later to find his wife struggling to help Miller, who was choking on a piece of the toy that was lodged in his throat.

“Remembering what I learned in class, I swooped up my baby and administered the procedure – just as we were taught – until the object came out,” said a relieved AJ.

“I learned a valuable lesson that day: making time for safety instruction is important. My wife and I are so thankful this training was available at work,” he added. “The incident hasn’t stopped Miller from putting objects in his mouth, so we continue to be very watchful. But I’ve seen the effect first-aid training can have in a real-life scenario – and it’s incredibly powerful.”​