Deputy Probation Officer Puts Emergency Training Into Action and Saves Co-worker

Deputy Probation Officer Esmerelda Solorzano (left) was able to save fellow DPO Shirletta Watkins' life with the Heimlech maneuver.

Every two years, Deputy Probation Officer Esmerelda Solorzano goes in for required CPR/First Aid recertification training, but she had never needed it - until this past August when she saved the life of a co-worker who was choking on some almonds.

Her efforts earned her a Chief’s Award from her department and the eternal gratitude of fellow DPO Shirletta Watkins.

The incident happened just before 6 p.m. on Aug. 24 at the Adult Field Services office on Ohio Street in North Park. Most of their co-workers had already gone home for the day. Solorzano was getting ready to leave as well, when she heard a loud noise that made her run into the next work area. The noise turned out to be Watkins who was trying unsuccessfully to gasp for breath.

“It was the scariest moment of my life,” Watkins said.

Unable to breathe, she truly wondered whether she was going to die and she tried desperately to communicate her predicament to her co-workers.

Watkins gestured to her throat and nodded when asked if she was choking. Deputy Probation Officer Bernita Lacy also ran over and assisted Solorzano in trying to assess the situation. When they couldn’t get Watkins to cough on her own, Watkins grabbed another co-worker’s hand and tried to put it around her stomach.

Solorzano realized she had to act fast and do a Heimlich maneuver before Watkins lost consciousness.

“I don’t remember it all. I think I was just on automatic, going on adrenaline,” Solorzano said.  “She (Watkins) turned around, she was ready.”

Lacy acted as a spotter and kept telling Solorzano to do it again and again until finally the food became dislodged after about the seventh abdominal thrust.

Watkins said although she certainly was grateful, she also couldn’t help but feel embarrassed at the end of it all. Yet, she doesn’t mind talking about it because it demonstrates the importance of Heimlich maneuver training.

Solorzano, whose last certification class was in April, said you never get to practice doing a Heimlich maneuver because you don’t want to hurt someone in class. Consequently, you never really know if the abdominal thrusts are too hard or not hard enough.

Yet in those moments, Solorzano didn’t have time to analyze or hesitate.  Watkins said she would advise anyone in Solorzano’s position to put as much pressure as they can into the abdominal thrusts to force whatever object is lodged in someone’s throat to come out.

“I would rather someone hurt me to save my life, then to be too soft and let me die,” Watkins said.

learn more about choking emergencies and training