Donna d’Aguiar was enjoying a brisket dinner at Famous Dave’s in Meridian on Wednesday evening with her daughter and two grandsons when she began choking.
Her daughter, Lisa Earnest, is a nurse, and one of the grandsons is training to be a nurse. But it was difficult for them to get the leverage needed to perform the Heimlich maneuver effectively.
So everyone in the barbecue restaurant seemed to jump to their feet to assist the family.
“A customer at the table came over and tried to help me,” said Earnest, who noted someone called 911. “All the staff and the manager ran over.”
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But d’Aguiar began to slump and turn purple. Earnest feared that the paramedics wouldn’t arrive in time to save her mom. She needed somebody tall, with long arms, who also had some life-saving know-how.
Enter David Langenfeld, a cook who stands 6 feet 5 inches tall. He put his arms around d’Aguiar and deftly performed the Heimlich, dislodging the chunk of food from the woman’s throat.
Paramedics arrived moments later, but Earnest credits Langenfeld with saving her mother’s life.
Famous Dave’s manager Ken Adams, who tried to dislodge the food before Langenfeld came out, agrees. For the past couple of days he’s been ribbing the shy cook by playing “Holding Out for a Hero” on the music system when Langenfeld walks into the kitchen.
How does Langenfeld react?
“He’s like, ‘I’m just David, Ken,’ ” Adams said.
Langenfeld, who had never before used the Heimlich on a choking person, said he was full of adrenaline and relieved when the chunk of food came out. Customers applauded.
“It was a lot to take in all at once, so I just said, ‘OK, I’ve got to go,’ and went back to the kitchen,” he said.
D’Aguiar, 74, is still shaken up and wary of eating, but she is recovering, her daughter said. She’s also sore from repeated Heimlich attempts by several people; Earnest estimates the process took eight to 10 minutes.
The experience was terrifying for the whole family, but Earnest said she was surprised and relieved by the kindness people in the restaurant showed.
“The manager called me twice yesterday — really caring — and wants my mom to come back and give her a really nice dinner comped,” she said.
Earnest, who works in an operating room at St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center in Boise, said she was impressed by the rapid-fire, organized response to this emergency by the staff and customers. She fired off a letter to the editor praising the restaurant staff; it ran in Friday’s Statesman.
“If you’re in a hospital you expect that kind of response,” she said Friday afternoon. “In a restaurant, you don’t.
“The empathy factor is, I think, what’s missing in our society. It was just that human compassion was there. ... It was good to feel that in today’s world. I feel recharged.”