Quick Thinking 8th Grader Saves Classmate from Choking

Alex Safran, an eighth grade student at Butler Catholic School, didn’t realize he would be saving the life of his good friend, Mason Grenci, when they walked into religion class one day.

On Nov. 16, the two boys were in class, listening to the teacher go over information, when Mason ended up with a portion of his water bottle lodged in his throat. The rubber spout, which is removable for cleaning, fell off and was choking him, he said.
Mason recalled that he couldn’t talk quite right and had to signal with his hands for help.
“I tried to figure out if I could get it out of my throat,” Mason said. “I tried coughing, I tried forcing it. Nothing could get it out.”
Alex, who was sitting in front of Mason, turned around and saw that Mason showed the telltale signs of choking: a red face, watery eyes and an inability to talk.
“I choked before, in the past, so I knew his symptoms,” Alex said. “I told the teacher. She went to go get help, but I didn’t know if it would’ve taken too long so I just did the Heimlich.”
Alex had no formal training in how to give the Heimlich maneuver and worked from memory based on what his mother did to him when he had choked before.
“I kind of trusted my gut and hopefully, I did it right,” Alex said. “If I didn’t, I would’ve hoped the teachers came fast enough.”
To Alex’s credit, he was one of the only people who jumped into action, while the rest of the students were stunned, Mason said.
“(The other students were) basically in shock. Alex was the only one who was even staying calm,” Mason said. “(Alex) had stayed very calm. He instructed the teacher on what was going. He stayed so calm throughout the whole thing, really level-headed. He told me to stand up and did the Heimlich like it was no big deal.”
After Mason could breathe, his mother was called, but his day proceeded like any other, attending Mass after class.
For him, it wasn’t choking that was the painful part; it was his racing thoughts.
“Physically, you can feel like, ‘I can’t breathe,’ but almost all of that went away as my thoughts mainly took over,” Mason said. “I was scared mostly. I was scared that help wouldn’t come quick enough … it was just fear, fear of dying, fear of choking.”
In a way, though, Mason is glad he almost choked since his fellow students now know how to handle the situation in the future.
“I think I’m actually very grateful that an event like this happened,” Mason said. “Not so much that it happened to me, but because it raises the awareness of it. Because a lot of the kids, they’re learning the Heimlich now. A lot of kids (at school) are now mentally prepared, especially the kids that were with us (in class). I have a better understanding now. I know how to do the Heimlich now, and I know what to do if you’re by yourself, and you were choking. I think it’s great because it’s going to help other people.”
To perform the Heimlich, an individual stands behind whoever is choking, wrapping their arms around that person’s waist. Alex said to make one hand into a fish and wrap the other hand around it, pushing that into the person’s abdomen with a quick, upward movement.
Alex, who has known Mason since kindergarten, just feels thankful that Mason is still around, he said.
“I feel a little accomplished, happy I saved him. Happy that Mason is still here today,” Alex said.
Next year, Mason will attend Butler Intermediate High School, and Alex is still deciding between Butler and Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, he said.
But Mason thinks it would be great to have Alex by his side. After that Wednesday at school, Mason bought some candy for Alex with a homemade card, making sure to include Life-Savers, a hard candy designed with a hole to prevent choking, Mason said.
Even though Mason is grateful that Alex saved him, Alex is not the type to hold this over Mason’s head, Mason said.
“He knows that if he needed something, he could come to me,” Mason said.
All Alex asks of Mason: “Be careful, that’s it.”
As the boys said, they have a lot to be thankful for this holiday.
And Mason now has a new water bottle with no easily detachable parts.

Published November 22, 2016 in the Butler Eagle