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Dental student saves choking victim during Lobby Day

April 26, 2019

By Kimber Solana

Eric Bender

Mr. Bender


Washington — In between office visits with Pennsylvania members of Congress, dental student Eric Bender was taking a quick lunch break in the Longworth House Office Building when something, from the corner of his eye, caught his attention.

A young man, about 18 years old, had stood up abruptly at a table nearby, he said.

“My first thought was that someone was having a heart attack,” Mr. Bender said, adding that the man was grabbing his left arm or chest. “Turns out he was doing the sign for choking.”

On April 15, the second day of this year’s ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day, when about 1,100 dentists and dental student were meeting with elected officials to advocate on behalf of dentistry, Mr. Bender found himself at the right place and right time.

This was the first Lobby Day for Mr. Bender, a second-year dental student and co-founder of The Tooth Bank, a student-based nonprofit seeking donated teeth for students to use to practice pre-clinical work and to study dental anatomy.

The University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine student already had a busy morning advocating for McCarran-Ferguson Act reform, alleviating student debt and improving smiles for patients suffering from congenital anomalies.

Saving a young man from choking, on his lunch break with a classmate, was not on his original Lobby Day agenda.

The choking victim’s father had jumped around the table and attempted to the Heimlich maneuver on his son with no success.

“The father turned to look around the room for help and I was already behind him,” Mr. Bender said. The second-year dental student said he trained on the Heimlich maneuver during orientation week in his first year in dental school.

“It was evident the young man was choking so I went behind him, carefully placed my fist above his belly button and [proceeded with several] large thrusts,” he said. According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, they recommend — for conscious adults — to position one clenched fist above the navel and below the rib cage, grasp the fist with the other hand and pull the clenched fist sharply and directly backward and upward under the rib cage six to 10 times quickly.

After the first two thrusts, the man was still choking.

“So I started to get worried,” Mr. Bender said. But on the third thrust, he decided to squeeze a little harder. That’s when the piece of food — the first bite of a chicken breast sandwich — dislodged and the man could breathe again.

“In hindsight, I should have performed harder thrusts from the get-go,” he said.

Mr. Bender said the parents were appreciative but were also in shock of what had occurred. He then made sure the chocking victim was OK and comfortable from the abdominal thrusts.

“After returning to my seat, my lunch partner said, ‘That may have been the smoothest Heimlich maneuver ever,’” he said. “I guess it pays to stay current on your techniques and keep your calm.”

The event was a reminder, Mr. Bender said, for health care professionals that it’s their responsibility to be aware of basic life support, CPR, the Heimlich maneuver and other basic emergency response.

“We are responsible for our patients if anything happens in the dental chair and, as trained health care professionals, we are responsible to step up and take action when needed,” he said.