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choking is no joke

By Barbara Karkabi

New York Times News Service

When President Bush fainted after a pretzel became stuck in his throat, he later turned it into a joke, saying he should have followed his mother's advice to chew before swallowing.

True enough. But experts say that choking is no laughing matter and is the cause of about 3,000 deaths a year. Many are children 3 and younger who choke on toys or household items.

Adults are at risk, too. Many people eat lunch at their desks and continue working or talking on the phone, a recipe for disaster.

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If an adult is clutching his throat with both hands, he is making the universal sign for choking. If you observe a conscious adult choking, ask if he needs help. If the person can speak, cough or breathe, do not interfere. If not, the obstruction must be cleared.

One way to do that is through the Heimlich maneuver. Stand behind the person who is choking and wrap your arms around his waist. With one hand, make a fist. Place the thumb side of the fist against his abdomen, just above the belly button. Be sure your hand is below the tip of the breastbone. Put your other hand over the fist and give quick upward thrusts into the abdomen.

Continue giving thrusts until the object blocking the airway is dislodged and the person begins to breathe. If the person becomes unconscious, position him on his back, arms at the side and call 911.

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