It started as a typical day at ADEC’s Day Service at Bristol. The lunch rush had started and ADEC’s staff was busy preparing lunches, passing medications and making sure clients were comfortable.

DSP Carrie Muir set down food in front of Brittany Boggs, a client who requires mechanically soft food, and turned around to check on another client. She heard a small cough from Brittany and glanced back to find her choking. Within seconds, Brittany had turned grey from lack of air.

Carrie immediately started the Heimlich and screamed for help. Paula Holmes, another DSP who was helping with a client in another room, rushed to her side.

Carrie continued with the Heimlich and finally heard air pushing into Brittany’s stomach – but Paula knew something still wasn’t right. Brittany was now purple, and she still couldn’t breathe.

Together, Paula and Carrie lifted Brittany out of her wheelchair into a standing position and tried three more abdominal thrusts. This time, it worked.

“If it weren’t for these ladies, Brittany wouldn’t be here with us today,” said Lynn Guthrie, ADEC’s healthcare coordinator. “When I heard about what happened, the hair stood up on my neck. I’ve been an EMT, I’ve walked in on that kind of situation. But everything fell into place. Paula and Carrie stepped up and responded perfectly.”

As soon as Brittany’s airway was cleared, an ambulance was called and she was transported to the hospital. Carrie (or “Care Bear,” as Brittany calls her) rode in the back of the ambulance with Brittany to keep her calm.

Neither Carrie nor Paula were prepared for the physical or emotional toll the incident would take on them. Although the situation lasted only a minute or two, their bodies were sore from the thrusts for several days.

“We both couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was so emotional,” Carrie said. “When we got to work the next day, I asked Paula: ‘Did you sleep last night?’”

Paula didn’t sleep, and neither did Carrie. Both DSPs spent all night thinking about Brittany and what could have happened.

“They saved my life,” Brittany said with a smile after she returned to Day Service at Bristol. A card she made for Paula and Carrie hangs on the wall.

The life-threatening situation was a reminder to all staff at ADEC the importance of their work and their training.

“Jumping in and doing emergency first aid measures can be overwhelming. It can be frightening,” Lynn said. “Once the emergency is over and the adrenaline drops, realization hits: Someone nearly died.”

If other DSPs find themselves in a similar situation, Paula and Carrie have advice for them.

“Remain calm,” Paula said. “On the inside you might be jello, but in the moment you need to hold it together.”

Carrie agreed. “Just do what you’re trained to do. You can be frantic and scream later.”