Rochelle holds first aid training equipment

When Rochelle Lavalle, junior at Spring Lake Park High School, noticed a young family member choking on his food, she sprang into action using knowledge from her First Aid/CPR class.

It’s a frightful scene to witness someone in choking distress, especially when that person is young and unable to verbalize or express that something is wrong. Rochelle describes eating dinner with her family recently when her cousin, who is a toddler, started choking on his food.

“I sat there for only a second, debating if I needed to help,” says Rochelle. “Then it was getting worse, so I realized I needed to step in and do something.”

She moved behind the child to perform abdominal thrusts. Eventually the food was dislodged and the child started coughing and breathing again.

“It all happened so fast,” says Rochelle. “After it was over, my mom said, ‘You saved him – you’re such a lifesaver!’”

During any choking incident, a victim may attempt to alert those surrounding them to help. Oftentimes bystanders want to assist, but don’t have the skills to do so. On this day, the child’s father tried to step in to help by striking his son’s back.

“I knew that wouldn’t work,” explains Rochelle. “Ms. Neiss taught us that when you slap the back in a certain position, it can lodge the obstruction and make it even worse. I had to tell him, ‘Let me do it, I will save your kid.’”

Had it not been for quick thinking and action on the part of the 16-year-old, things could have turned out much differently for Rochelle’s family that day.

First Aid/CPR teacher, Jennifer Neiss, has been working in the Spring Lake Park Opportunities in Emergency Care (OEC) program for nine years, helping students on the track to becoming Nursing Assistants. Jennifer and other OEC instructors have heard countless stories over the years from other students in similar situations as Rochelle.

“We as staff members and adults know from experience that there is such immense value in our OEC classes,” says Jennifer. “For students, sometimes it’s not until they are faced with a real situation outside of school that they realize how important and useful these skills really are. They can be life-changing and lifesaving.”

The Opportunities in Emergency Care (OEC) program is part of Spring Lake Park High School’s Career and College Pathway for Health & Human Services. Students can take courses to become certified as an Emergency Medical Technician/Responder (EMT), Nursing Assistant, Firefighter and more. Two other pathways – Business & Entrepreneurship and Technology, Engineering & Design – also support career exploration and skill development in growing sectors.

Pathways courses provide real-world experience as students develop skills within a field and opportunities to explore different career options, even earning college credit. Students can sample courses in many Pathways or take all the courses within a specific Pathway as they prepare for additional post-secondary education, training or work opportunities after high school.

Rochelle initially felt unsure of how much she would engage with the First Aid/CPR course. This is her first OEC course ever. After the episode, she shares a new perspective:

Now I realize that you would much rather know it and not need it, than need it and not know it. Rochelle Lavalle, SLPHS junior

As for future plans, Rochelle is considering the medical field by going to college for nursing or exploring psychology or social work.