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Doctors perform emergency tracheotomy in Bakersfield restaurant

Palm Camayenne/Flickr Creative Commons

When former Kern County supervisor Pauline Larwood started choking on food at a busy Bakersfield restaurant Monday, a group of nearby medical professionals stepped in to help. 

Along with Larwood, they were all in town for the Valley Fever Symposium. 

Paul Krogstad, a UCLA professor and physician, first became aware that something was wrong when he heard a restaurant patron call out for 911, Krogstad said. That's when Royce Johnson, a UCLA professor and chief of infectious diseases at Kern Medical Center, began performing the Heimlich maneuver.

"This proved unsuccessful, she was lowered to the ground and Dr. Johnson decided the time had come to make more drastic measures," Krogstad told KPCC. 

The next step? Performing a tracheotomy with a pocket knife. 

While Krogstad served as technician assistant to Johnson, Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, monitored Larwood's pulse. 

"[Johnson] made a clean entry into the trachea; we inserted a small plastic tube, and he was able to give her some breaths and allow her to regain consciousness," Krogstad told KPCC.

The doctor said he's still unsure of what exactly he handed to Johnson. "Initially, I  thought it was a ballpoint pen. I still don't know what it was. When they handed to me, I realized it would be the right size, so I broke it and handed it."

Luckily, the procedure worked and the doctors were able to clear an airway within seconds. 

"Within a minute or so of her beginning to breathe or gain consciousness, paramedics were already starting to arrive. And at that point, she was sitting up in fact and able to dislodge the food item," he said. 

What should you do if you're in a similar scenario? Krogstad advises folks to "take a CPR course... to give yourself at least a head-start on what to do in these emergencies at home or in public.

"What was reinforced for me by being involved in this is the realization that the basics that the public and physicians are taught is so important," he told KPCC.