It was the longest two minutes imaginable: Pamela McDaniel was choking and running out of oxygen. Then, her co-worker Jeff did something that would change her life.
By Melissa Conway
Pamela McDaniel has one of those smiles you can hear through the phone. And it’s no wonder, because she has a special reason to smile. October 18, 2018 started out as a normal day at her job as a picker at the Meijer Distribution Center in Lansing, Mich. But when she started choking on some medication and couldn’t breathe, she thought she might lose her life.
A native of Saginaw, Mich., Pamela left the state years ago for some adventure and new experiences. She returned home this year to be closer to her family and began working for Meijer in August. “I love it here. People made me feel real comfortable and at home right away.”
When Pamela was on her break, she realized it was time for her to take her medicine. The pills lodged in her throat, blocking her airway.
“I was trying to get some air, but I couldn’t breathe. Then I tried to drink some water, but it didn’t go down, it really hung there. I quickly felt like I was losing oxygen. I thought to myself, ‘If I don’t get this out of my throat immediately, I’m gonna die.’”
Pamela says she tried to flag two people who had come out of the bathroom, but they didn’t understand her and walked away. She was getting scared.
“The next thing you know, I see Jeff.”
Jeff Jonaitis is a General Warehouse clerk who has worked at Meijer for nearly 20 years. He’s friendly and approachable, and someone who talks with people easily. Pamela was fairly new to Meijer, but she already had become friendly with Jeff. “Whenever I have questions about building my pallet, Jeff’s right there to assist. He’s the right guy to have on the dock.”
When Jeff saw Pamela, he knew something was wrong. She looked panicked and was pointing at her throat.
“I asked her, ‘Are you choking?’ and she nodded her head yes. Then I asked her if she needed me to do the Heimlich Maneuver, and she gasped, ‘Yes!’”
Jeff learned how to do the Heimlich almost 20 years ago, when he took a first aid class in college, but never had a chance to use it. Still, without time to think, he did what he could to help Pamela.
“Jeff got behind my back and started performing the Heimlich. It took four thrusts before my throat cleared and I could breathe again,” said Pamela.
Jeff added, “I didn’t start panicking until I did it the third time. The first time I was a little cautious. In training, you’re taught to clasp your hands underneath the ribcage to put pressure on the diaphragm, but I didn’t want to hurt her. By the last attempt, I actually picked her up off her feet. That’s when I heard her breathing again. Even having training doesn’t prepare you for actually having to do it.”
Pamela added, “When I could finally breathe again, Jeff asked me, ‘Are you okay? Do you need some water?’ I just started crying. I thanked him for saving my life and started telling everybody and rejoicing!”
When Pamela told her family what happened, they were stunned. “They started crying, and said oh my gosh, we almost lost you today. It’s a miracle you’re alive!”
When Unit Director in Training Marcelo Olivarez heard what happened, he couldn’t help but marvel at how everything seemed to come together at the right time. “Talk about having a reason to give thanks, especially at this time of year. It was a stroke of luck that Jeff crossed her path when he did, and that he was willing and able to perform the Heimlich to save Pamela’s life. Everything seems to happen for a reason. Whatever your beliefs are, obviously this was a blessing.”
As for Pamela, she will never forget the selfless act of her friend Jeff that day: “We have a lifetime bond now. He’s my hero.”
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