Pedernales Electric Cooperative’s John Hert has been an EMT in the Texas Hill Country for 19 years but hadn’t performed the Heimlich maneuver on anyone—until now.
The second-year linework apprentice at the Johnson City-based co-op recently administered the procedure on a fellow diner in a Kingsland restaurant, saving her life.
Hert was refilling his drink when he heard “commotion” in the restroom area. “Honestly, at first, I thought somebody was getting sick, and I didn’t pay much attention to it. And then I heard somebody say, ‘Hey, she’s choking!’”
Nita Leinneweber, 65, a lifelong PEC member who was at the restaurant with her husband and mother on Feb. 11, had run to the restroom to dislodge a piece of food but was struggling to breathe. Her husband, Carl Leinneweber, was yelling for help.
Marble Falls Police Chief Glenn Hanson, who was at the restaurant with a few officers, rushed to Leinneweber’s side to perform the Heimlich maneuver in an attempt to clear her airway.
Seeing that Hanson’s energy was flagging, Hert offered his services. “I told him that I could help,” said Hert, who left a firefighting career to work for PEC but was still certified as an EMT. “I don’t know how long he was doing it, but he was getting tired. So, he said, ‘OK, you can take over.’”
When Hert reached Leinneweber’s side, “she was in pretty bad shape. Her face was gray and her lips were turning blue. I asked her if she could talk, but she shook her head no.”
After several attempts, Hert was able to dislodge the food from her airway. “We got her to a chair and sat her down and her color immediately started coming back.”
Leinneweber said she doesn’t remember the incident but wanted to thank her “heroes.” Her husband, who had noticed Hert’s co-op uniform and name badge, contacted PEC and the sheriff’s office to offer the family’s gratitude.
“Words can’t express what I feel and what I want to say to these two men. They saved my life,” said Nita Leinneweber, who has had difficulty swallowing since a 2008 diagnosis of Guillain-Barre syndrome.
PEC arranged a reunion for Leinneweber and the two men at its Marble Falls office, where she presented each of them with a bouquet of flowers and an engraved plaque.
The gestures of thanks touched Hert, who said the incident motivated him to renew his EMT training. “It gives you a good feeling that her family was so appreciative and that your actions kept her alive. You could tell she’s loved by her husband and her whole family.”
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer for NRECA.