It was a moment I’ll never forget. My three-year-old son was racing his toy car along our study desk one moment, and choking the next. His ‘broom broom’ noises became silent. He grabbed my arm. His little face began to turn blue.
Adrenaline rose in my throat. I grabbed him, turned him around and started to hit his back. With the other hand I fumbled with my phone and rang 000. In my mind was the children’s first aid course hubby and I attended when our son was born. “Keep hitting their back, hard and consistently, between the shoulder blades. Do not attempt to dislodge the item with your fingers. Just keep hitting their back. With each hit, a little air is going in.”
It was that tiny gasp of air that would be trickling into my son’s lungs that kept me going. Smack. A little trickle of air. Smack. Another trickle of air. Smack. More air. I said a silent prayer. Please God don’t let my son die. And then mid stroke I heard the faint cry: “Mummy it’s out!”
A tiny black USB cover had dislodged from his throat. I looked into his deep brown eyes and hugged him so tight, in disbelief that we had done this. I had done this.
The greatest fear of any parent is losing their child, and it is moments like these that we are tested most. I held in my hands the body of my son being shaken with death. To this day my hands tremble with the memory.
Choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional death in children under five. While ringing for an ambulance may seem instinctive, parents and carers need to be armed with the first aid skills they need to save their little one’s life.
“Many parents think ‘this won’t happen to me, the ambulance will come or someone else will be there to help’,” says Brionhy Westbrook, director and founder of Kidzaid Australia. “But with children it’s four minutes until they have irreversible brain damage, and even then the quickest ambulance service in the world can’t get there in four minutes.
“In these situations parents often get scared and frightened and they don’t know what to do. This is where knowledge is power.”
Brionhy encourages all parents to enrol in a children’s first aid course. “You’ll learn the steps you need to save a life so that when you are put in an emergency situation you have the confidence to get through it. A children’s first aid course should be a top priority over anything.”
Bel, a mum of two, says a first aid course saved her son’s life, too.
“Our young son choked on a chip. It happened so quickly - one minute he had it in his mouth, and the next his face went red and lips started turning blue. His eyes were pleading with us for help,” she remembers.
“In that situation hubby immediately used his first aid training and I was on standby with the phone. I definitely think that our reaction wouldn't have been as quick or as concise without our first aid training.
“I would definitely recommend to all parents to undertake a first aid course. It should be high on the priority list, just as birthing classes and antenatal appointments are.”
I definitely agree. Without the knowledge I had gained from that course, I can’t say with confidence that my son would be here today.
What to do if your child is choking:
1) Immediately check if the child is still able to breathe, cough or cry. If so, they may be able to dislodge the object by coughing.
2) If they cannot clear the airway, call 000.
3) Immediately deliver five back blows to the middle of the back, checking after each blow if airway has cleared.
4) Do not attempt to dislodge the item with your finger as this may lodge the item further down the airway.
5) Do not attempt to give water or a drink to clear the blockage.
6) Always seek emergency medical help in these situations and arm yourself with first aid knowledge before an emergency presents.
St John Ambulance Australia offers a 'Caring for Kids' first aid course around the country. Find one in your state or territory at stjohn.org.au.