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Cafeteria Manager Saves Colleague from Choking
Cafeteria Manager Saves Colleague from Choking
Posted on 01/18/2021
Candler Elementary School Cafeteria Manager Kristy Laird, right, used the Heimlich maneuver to save school Nutrition Assistant Donna Cathey, left, from choking.Pictured: Candler Elementary School Cafeteria Manager Kristy Laird, right, used the Heimlich maneuver to save school Nutrition Assistant Donna Cathey, left, from choking.

By Tim Reaves
BCS Communications Department

Buncombe County Schools Nutrition staff at Candler Elementary School is up to any task, even saving a life.

On Jan. 13, the crew was eating a typical, socially-distanced lunch on long tables in the cafeteria, when a piece of food became lodged in School Nutrition Assistant Donna Cathey’s throat. She started coughing, then stopped as the object blocked her airway. She couldn’t speak or even breathe.

“I couldn’t get any air, and things started getting blurry,” Ms. Cathey said. “It was one of the scariest things.”

In that moment, Cafeteria Manager Kristy Laird recalled several posters around the cafeteria that describe the signs of choking and how to perform the Heimlich maneuver. Having repeatedly read them over the years, she knew exactly what to do. Ms. Laird put her mask back on and rushed over, wrapping her arms around Ms. Cathey and performing quick abdominal thrusts. After a few seconds, the obstruction became dislodged, and Ms. Cathey could breathe again.

“I just did what I had to do,” Ms. Laird said. “I would do it for anybody, and I hope anybody would do it for me. I was kind of paralyzed, but then I thought ‘if not me, who?’”

“She saved my life,” Ms. Cathey said. “She did what she needed to do, and I’m alive today because of it.”

In this close-knit group, putting others first comes naturally. Even in the midst of all the disruptions caused by COVID-19, Candler Elementary’s School Nutrition staff stays focused on feeding kids. Whether through in-person service, deliveries, or curbside pickup, they have been anchors of love and stability for the students and each other.

“The cafeteria staff is always calm and prepped to handle whatever comes their way,” said Candler Elementary Principal Charlotte Hipps. “It is obvious that they love working together and take care of each other regardless of the situation.”

“These people mean everything to me,” Ms. Cathey added. “We’re a family, and we really care about each other.”

Ms. Laird said the choking incident convinced her that everyone needs to know how to do the Heimlich maneuver, regardless of their profession.

“You’d be surprised how well it will click in your head,” she said.

    Buncombe County Schools is in the process of reviewing its website to ensure compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Buncombe County Schools does not discriminate on the basis of sex in its education programs or activities and is required by Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and federal regulations to not discriminate in such a manner. This requirement extends to admission and employment. Inquiries about the application of Title IX and its implementing federal regulations may be referred to the Title IX Coordinator and/or the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. The Title IX Coordinator's contact information is: Shanon Martin,, 828-255-5918, 175 Bingham Road, Asheville, NC 28806.

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