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James Ferragut, Published February 11 2012

Ferragut: Routine becomes lifesaver

The year was 1978. I had been a clothing buyer for Herbst Department Stores for three years. The best part of my job was flying to Manhattan to shop the markets four or five times a year, each trip lasting a week. By 1978, I had the routine down pat, and I grew to know mid-town Manhattan like the back of my hand. I’d fly out with two or three of my colleagues from Herbst; we typically stayed at the Barbizon Plaza, an elegant old monster of a hotel sitting on the corners of Central Park south and The Avenue of the Americas.

My routine was to hop on the subway to lower Manhattan and back again. I sat down in the waiting car and started reviewing my appointments for the day, in between glances at the fascinating medley of people coming into the car. A lady, I would guess to have been in her mid-40s, was facing me, reading a paper and eating a deli bagel.

I noticed her but really didn’t give her a second thought. While I was brushing up on the day’s schedule, I heard the lady cough. Then she coughed again. And then she coughed once again. When she started to slap hard with her free hand on the empty seat next to her, I looked up for real. She was choking. She started to turn blue as passengers in the car stopped their conversations to see what the ruckus was about.

I got up and grabbed her by the shoulders. I said, “I’m going to use the Heimlich maneuver on you, do you understand?” And in her wild eyes, I saw the “yes.” She stood up, and I got behind her. I did the maneuver and failed. I told her I was going to try again on the count of three and that I needed her to relax. “One, two …” and right after I said “two” I drove my clenched fist that was nestled into my right hand as hard as I could, up and into her diaphragm below her ribcage. A glob of bagel the size of a billiard ball shot out of her mouth. She coughed, spit a few more times and then turned around with tears in her eyes and gave me the biggest hug of my life. Everyone in the subway car applauded. Time froze. It was “Twilight Zone” time. I wondered to myself, “Where the hell did that come from? What did I just do?”

Ever since that day, I’ve wanted to get CPR-certified because if that happened once, I knew it was going to happen again.

Kilbourne Group owns the building where I work, and Doug Burgum thought it prudent that at least one person from each office, condo or apartment should get certified in CPR/AED and building safety.

Essentia Health Systems now partners with the Fargo Fire Department in a program called HEART SAFE. Their goal is to train and certify 500 people in CPR/AED by the end of next year. Their secondary goal is to get at least 500 AEDs into the buildings, offices and workplaces in Fargo in the same time frame.

It was instinct that drove me to help that lady in the subway. I’m guessing my instincts will find me in the same situation again, and now that I’m certified, I know I can jump in with confidence.

Ferragut, a regular contributor to The Forum’s commentary page, is general manager/marketing consultant for a Fargo advertising company.