Partner delivers Life Saving Lesson

Friday 17 January 10:55 AM

Gary Woolrich owns Cairns First Aid Training Service . He is an Allens Training Partner. Gary was delivering a first aid course at the Cairns RSL when he was notified by a member of staff to attend an emergency onsite whilst an Ambulance was responding.

Gary was confronted with a collapsed member of the public with a fully occluded airway.

Following is Gary's account and lessons learnt

RE: CHOKING INCIDENT. I've been asked to comment on the incident I was involved in recently and, although reluctant at first, I learnt a lot from the experience and believe it would be remiss of me not to share those lessons with my colleagues. It's a bit lengthy but I couldn't shorten it for fear of omitting an important fact.
First, l would like to say that the TV interview made me out to be the hero but when asked what it felt like to save a life, I was quick to point out that it was not my efforts alone that saved this man and that the casualty's son played an equal part in the rescue, a fact I pointed out numerous times during the interview but which they decided to edit out.

WHAT I LEARNT: Things are not going to play out as smoothly as we might like to think. It was not like following the instructions from 1 to 10 and all will be good. It was not text book stuff and something played out that I was not expecting and it changed the entire situation, making it much more frightening.


1) There were a number of people on the scene who didn't know First Aid.

2) Attempts to administer back-slaps to assist the man were made however  too lightly.

3) The amount of lost time before anything effective had been commenced, which is time that the brain was being starved of oxygen.

Without a positive result from her attempts, the staff member sent one of my students to fetch me. I was conducting a course on the day and we were having a lunch break. The training room is upstairs and the restaurant is downstairs. I remained in the training room as the students went downstairs to eat. I was alerted to the situation and made my way down. An estimated 2 minutes had passed before I arrived on scene. As I did, I witnessed the casualty fall forward in his seat, unconscious. I can't say for how long his brain, up to this point, had been starved of oxygen.

As soon as I arrived I checked his breathing but, as you now know, he wasn't. The son must have now understood the seriousness of the situation and gave over ownership of the situation to me without question. I immediately commenced back-slaps and I must say that I hit him very, very hard. I then tried to open his mouth so I could look into it but discovered his bottom jaw was locked. I tried to prise it open but it refused to move. There was about a half the depth of a finger gap between top and bottom teeth, making it impossible for me to look into the mouth or to reach in and grab whatever was in there.
I wasn't expecting this. I did another 5 back-slaps. To be honest, it may have been ten. I wasn't concerned with counting, I was on auto-drive as I considered how I could make his jaw open.
Bits of food came out through the small gap between his teeth but still no breathing. I placed him on his back and did 5 (or more) chest thrusts. I heard - or felt (I'm not sure which!) - a rib break. More bits of food came up but still no breathing. As I continued alternating between back slaps and thrusts, the son, whose trembling voice was trying to re-assure his unconscious dad, was attempting to pry his dad's teeth apart but to no avail. I was starting to think we were going to lose him. I did more chest thrusts and slaps and prepared myself mentally to try to blow the blockage in (I'm afraid to admit that this was an unsettling thought giving the half food food particles and drool surrounding his mouth) and commence CPR if it came to that.

As the casualty lay on his side and I was slapping him, his son began squeezing his own fingers between the small gap between the top and bottom teeth. His fingers started bleeding but it didn't deter him. Onlookers started crying. I shutter to think what the son was feeling and thinking. I could see that his free hand was shaking uncontrollably.

I called out for a face mask. Then the son started to withdraw his fingers but this time they weren't empty. Pinned between the very tips of the fingers was bacon. Out it came and it just kept coming. It must have been about 15 cm long and didn't look like it had been chewed. Cauliflower and other gross looking things followed. Gobs of the stuff. Then, gently, the casualty started breathing and colour returned to his face.

The paramedics arrived and I did the hand over. They applied a Pulse Oximeter and promptly announced he had good saturation. They then cut his tee shirt off and I was taken aback by the extensive bruising and swelling on his back. I then scooped my students up and returned them to the training room. Whilst I continued teaching, in the back of my mind I was wondering if the man suffered any brain damage or had died.

The next day I received a text message from my St John supervisor (where I am a volunteer as a First Aider). As it turns out he was on duty at the Cairns Hospital when the man was admitted. He informed me the casualty was discharged later that day and in good condition other than a broken rib and terribly bruised back.

. It was the locked jaw that made this incident so difficult. I explained to a colleague what had happened and, although there is no way of knowing for certain, he explained that jaw lock (tristmus) can occur as a result of hypoxia to brain tissue. It's possible that the hypoxia occurred because intervention was ineffective and/or delayed.

THE MAIN LESSON: It is vital that intervention is implemented immediately and that back slaps are powerful (though also being mindful of the size of the person).

On behalf of Allens Training we would like to congratulate you Gary for your quick actions in this life saving emergency.

Thanks for also sharing your story and valuable lessons learned.