U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo. – Air Force sophomore fencer Madeleine Girardot, Atlanta, Ga., CS23, performed the life-saving Heimlich maneuver on a young fencer, Helen Landwehr from Colorado Springs while at the North American Cup in Virginia Beach, Jan. 18, 2014.
As told by Head Coach Abdel Salem: After a long day of fencing at the North American Cup in Virginia Beach, the Air Force fencing team went to dinner at a Japanese restaurant. There were a lot of other fencers at the restaurant and we ended up sitting next to some fencers from Colorado Springs. Madeleine was sitting three seats away from Helen.
According to Salem, Helen is a quiet fifteen year old young lady and was at the dinner sitting across from her mother. We were all engaged in conversation throughout the evening. Helen seemed to be having fun sitting with the cadets from the Air Force Academy fencing team. Suddenly, Helen started looking at her mother. Helen did not say anything, but tears were running from Helen's eyes, in a way that I had never experienced before. It was like a faucet had suddenly turned on inside her eyes. Helen’s mom asked, “Helen, what’s wrong?” Helen did not answer, but the tears kept rolling. Madeleine approached Helen and, asked her if she is choking. She did not respond as tears still streamed down Helen's face, and her lips had a strange blue color to them. Madeleine came up behind Helen’s seat and delivered two strong blows to the girl’s back. It did not appear to be working because Helen was still crying, unable to speak or breathe, and was slowly turning more blue. Madeleine authoritatively said to Helen “If you are choking stand up now.” Madeleine decided to take over the situation and deal with it. Helen stood up, still looking very distressed as Madeleine placed herself behind Helen and performed the Heimlich maneuver.
I was very impressed with Madeleine for taking charge of the situation. After administering the Heimlich maneuver twice to Helen; she seemed relieved and less stressed even if the tears were still falling. She looked very embarrassed, but still smiled. It seemed like no one knew exactly what was going on. Even Helen sounded as if she did not fully understand what was happening. Madeleine told everyone that everything was okay, “Helen was plainly choking.”
When Madeleine saw Helen smiling, breathing, and able to talk, she returned to her seat. When others asked why nothing came out of Helen’s mouth as it does in the movies, Helen said that she could not breathe or talk and that when Madeleine performed the Heimlich maneuver, she felt something come out of her throat. She said she was too embarrassed to spit it out because that would be impolite, so she swallowed the piece of food. After that, she felt better. Everyone was happy, and Helen, although a little hesitant to eat again, carefully began to start eating and enjoy her night.
Madeleine was receiving a lot of praise from the adults, cadets, other fencers and the waitress. Nonetheless, Madeleine did not act as if she had done anything heroic. On the contrary, she only saw herself as sensing someone in need and stepping in to help. I did not think much about it until later when I got an email from Helen’s coach. The email said, "Helen’s mother wants everyone to know about the incident and how grateful and impressed she was at the confidence and skill Madeleine demonstrated. She told her entire club that one of the Academy’s fencers had saved her daughter’s life."
“I knew she was choking because she started off trying to cough, and when I looked back a few moments later she appeared not to be breathing, there were tears pouring down her face, and she looked a little different color,” said Girardot.
“In high school I was a lifeguard, I am CPR AED certified and learned all of those techniques, including the Heimlich maneuver.” Girardot attended Henry W. Grady High School in Atlanta.
Girardot adds, “I think it is important for everyone to know basic life-saving techniques because you never know when and if you might be in a situation where you will need to use them.”