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The City Journals

Stay in school, save a life

Oct 06, 2020 01:28PM ● By Jet Burnham

Jackson Johnson, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey and Hunter Olsen look at footage from a school security camera that recorded Hunter saving Jackson’s life. (Photo courtesy of Jordan School District)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

When Jackson Johnson started choking on his lunch in the cafeteria at West Jordan Middle School, his friends thought he was kidding around.

“Then he turned around and his face was kind of bluish and he put his hands around his neck and I was like, ‘oh, shoot, this is real,’” said ninth grader Hunter Olsen, who jumped up and began doing the Heimlich Maneuver on Jackson.

After six thrusts, the food was dislodged and Jackson could breathe. Full of adrenaline, Hunter pumped his fist in the air and shouted “Ms. Howa!”

“I yelled my eighth grade health teacher's name,” Hunter said. “It was just in the moment and she was the one that taught it to me. If she didn't teach me how to do it, I wouldn't have done it.”

Hunter took Kathy Howa’s health class last spring, where he learned first-aid, CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver just before school transitioned to distance learning.

“You hope that those children are actually listening to you,” Howa said. “And when something like this happens, and you find out that they did—there is no greater reward than somebody that's actually saving somebody else's life.”

Hunter said the hands-on practice in health class gave him the confidence to use the technique in a real situation. In Howa’s class, students practice live-saving techniques on inflated upper body dummies called Resusci-Annies.

“They actually have to pass off the right hand positions and so forth on the dummies in front of me,” Howa said. “It's not real life but they get a good simulation of how the air goes in and out. If they're putting their hands on the right area, they can actually feel it.”

Hunter said practicing on a dummy had prepared him to know what it would feel like and where and how hard to push.

“It was pretty similar but it's a lot scarier because you can hear them trying to breathe and struggle and there's a bunch of tension,” Hunter said.

Jackson, who is also familiar with the technique (his dad is a police officer), was able to assist Hunter when the first few thrusts didn’t dislodge the food from his throat.

“I realized his hands were in the wrong place so I pushed them down to the correct spot,” Jackson said. He is grateful that Hunter was paying attention and reacted quickly to save his life.

Those who know Hunter aren’t surprised he was the one to spring into action when someone needed help.

“Hunter is definitely one of the first boys that I would think who would have enough mental capability and strength to actually say, ‘oh, let me help him,’” said Sheena Johnson, Jackson’s mom. “He's a great kid.”

Howa said after viewing the footage of the incident taken by cafeteria cameras, she believes Jackson would not have been able to dislodge the food on his own, it was so deep in his throat.

She plans to show future students the video footage of the incident and a picture of Hunter as part of her class, to reinforce that learning the skills can and have saved a life in their own school.

“To be able to use a real life situation is priceless,” she said. “Unfortunately, that had to happen, but it sure had a good ending and kids will understand that this really can happen. I think it will open a lot of eyes when it becomes real in your family and your community.”

The real life incident will also help Howa impress upon students that it didn’t matter that Hunter was shorter than Jackson.

“It doesn't matter how big or how strong you are if you do it correctly,” she said.

Health is a required class for eight graders, covering first-aid, nutrition, sex education, social skills and mental health—information Howa believes is vital for young teens’ development. She tries to be a fun and engaging teacher so that students listen in class. Everyone involved is glad that Hunter paid attention in her class. When Howa heard that Hunter gave credit to her for teaching him the Heimlich, she was touched.

“It was just heartwarming,” she said. “That made me feel so special. I'll never forget it.”

Howa, who has been teaching for 28 years, said there’s nothing a teacher loves more than to have a student tell them they made a difference in their lives.

“There's a lot of work in teaching, especially with what we've been going through, but it’s not about that,” she said. “It's about touching these kids and hoping that you make them great human beings to go out in the community and to just be good people.”