SUTHERLAND’S RIVER, N.S. — Garrett Williams respond awkwardly when asked about his younger sister Shanna’s recent brush with tragedy, but it was the 10-year-old boy’s quick thinking and good memory that saved his six-year-old sister’s life.
First Aid training Garrett learned at school two years ago enabled him to help Shanna after she choked on a Lifesaver candy
“[I] didn’t really think I was gonna have to use it though,” Garrett said of learning how to do the Heimlich manoeuvre.
The terrifying episode happened March 23, as their grandparents were driving the siblings home from school.
“My daughter, Shanna, was sucking on a lifesaver and talking at the same time”, the children’s mother Carla Williams told Global News.
“And all of a sudden, she started to choke, coughing [and] trying to get it up,” she said. “I think they drove a little bit before they stopped the car. Her lips had started to turn blue at that time.”
Shanna’s grandfather worked desperately to save her, pounding on her chest.
“It wasn’t coming out,” says Garrett. “He was pressing on her chest. It wasn’t gonna work.”
Garrett said he stepped in and “did it properly.”
He used a technique called “abdominal thrust,” better known as the Heimlich Maneuver — named for Dr. Henry Heimlich, who first described it in 1974.
WATCH: A St. John Ambulance video what to do when someone is choking
Garrett learned the technique Frank H. Macdonald elementary school, in Sutherland’s River, N.S.
Glenna Oldford, an educational assistant at the school and a St. John Ambulance instructor, marvels at Garrett’s heroic actions.
“It is absolutely amazing, and to think that this was a life-saving situation and the little boy was only in Grade 3 when I taught it to him,” she said, recalling the five-hour course, called “We Can Help.” “Two years had passed and he was able to just draw on those skills and put them to good use.”
It could also be that emergency response is in Garrett’s blood: his mother is a registered nurse and his father, Adam, is a volunteer firefighter.
“People would comment and say ‘Garrett is like an adult in a little boy’s body’ he’s always seemed to be older than his years,” says Carla.
“It’s pretty phenomenal. It really is. I hate to think of what could have happened if he wasn’t there,” Carla said.
Suffocation and choking injuries are blamed for dozens of deaths and hundreds of hospitalizations each year in Canada.
Many cases are children of Shanna’s age, or younger, choking on food, balloons or toys.
But, First Aid training is largely optional in Canadian schools.
The Nova Scotia Department of Education notes all schools have staff members who are trained in First Aid and that many students learn skills from community-based programs.
Carla would like to see mandatory first aid training and young Garrett agrees.
“[I’d] say you should take it because I took it and I had to use it,” he said.
Shanna recovered soon after and the children’s parents have since put a household ban on Lifesavers into effect.