“I realized she was choking and the first thought that came to my mind was to beat her on the back, which is really not what to do,” said Walter. “About the time I got out of my seat I saw a man coming our way.”
Just a couple of tables away, corporal David Harper of the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office was off-duty, enjoying a meal with this wife and children when he heard the commotion and the gasps of someone choking.
“I looked back and saw her turning red and struggling for air. I told my kids to stay seated.”
In one quick sweeping motion Harper picked Susie up and began executing the life-saving Heimlich maneuver.
“All the sudden I saw these tattooed arms coming around me. I had no idea who it was but was amazed at this person’s strength,” said Susie.
At the same time Harper pulled Susie out of the chair her instincts told her to relax so he could help her. Her experience from working at the hospital for more than 24 years and being certified in basic life support told her what was going to happen next.
“I learned before that in a critical situation it is best to make yourself relax. I consciously made myself relaxed when he took me.”
After four or five thrusts Susie heard Harper ask if she was OK. She wanted to answer him but feared the obstruction was still lodged and was concerned she may have pain. After slowly inhaling and exhaling she finally nodded and whispered yes. The more breaths she took the more alert she became.
“I remember patting his right hand, squeezing it then telling him thank you,” she said.
Harper said he did not let go of Susie until he was sure she was going to be fine. When she felt comfortable enough to return to his table he asked the waitress to fix her a glass of tea.
“When I was sure she was OK I grabbed a plate and finished my meal,” Harper said. “When my wife came back toward the table from fixing her place she didn’t know what had just happened. She just saw me hugging a lady,” he said.
Before Harper and his family left the restaurant several people came up to him offering their appreciation to him for getting involved.
“Most of the people who spoke to me said they were glad I was there because they didn’t have any idea what to do,” he said.
In the next few minutes, looking back at what just occurred, anxiety came over Susie, causing her heart to begin to race. She wondered if she made a spectacle of herself.
“I had so many thoughts going through my head psychologically. The realness set in that my family could have been making funeral arrangements the next day.”
Still trembling, she motioned for Harper to come over to where she was sitting. When he kneeled down beside her chair Susie asked him what kind of work he was in. When he told her he was with the Bradley County Sheriff’s office it didn’t surprise her.
“It makes sense that police officers have to be certified in basic life support and emergency measures just by the nature of their work,” said Susie.
Harper said his police training taught him how to perform the Heimlich maneuver correctly but this was the first time he has had to use it.
When he left the restaurant, Harper didn’t think much of what he had done until his supervisors spread the word that he had saved a life did it become a big deal.
“I just did what I was supposed to do,” Harper said. “Even though I was off-duty, every officer knows they are really never off-duty. I am always listening and watching. This time I was glad I could help.”
According to Bob Gault, public information officer for the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office, it is essential for the deputies to be trained as first responders in basic life support since many times they arrive at emergencies before paramedics and fire and rescue.
A few days after the life-altering incident, Susie and Walter ran into a group of law enforcement officers. She took the opportunity to encourage them with positive words.
“I walked over to them and told them a couple of days ago I was choking in a restaurant and an off-duty officer saved my life. I told them I realize they have a multifaceted job and do a lot of good for people. I wanted them to know they are not told enough how much they are appreciated.”
According to Susie after she told them the average person doesn’t realize what all their job requires of them one of the officers smiled real big and said her words made up for “five years of negativity.”
Walter believes God places people in their path when they are needed most. He’s thankful Harper was there — in their path to save his bride of 41 years and gives God all the credit for the good outcome.
Choking has been an issue for Susie since she had a mediastenoscopy with biopsy to rule out lymphoma and was diagnosed with sarcoidosis 3 years ago. After the serious episode in the restaurant Walter now knows what to do.
“When I got home, I pulled up the information on the Internet about what to do next time and what to do if I should become totally unconscious,” Susie said.
She isn’t sure when she will enjoy whole kernel corn again. When she does, she will be a little cautious.
“I know one thing for sure ... it would be good to have a police officer around just in case,” she said smiling.
Harper, a nine-year law enforcement veteran, became an officer because he wanted to help people and to have a reason to get up and go to work in the morning.
“It goes back to my childhood. I grew up in the projects of McMinn County where I saw a lot of stuff go on. I thought I could help by becoming an officer.”
That is just what he has done for Susie and her family. He has helped them and forever made a difference in their lives.
“To me he is a hero. He is also very special to my family,” she said. “My granddaughter Savannah sent him a message on Facebook thanking him for saving my life.”
Since the incident Susie has realized how at peace she feels when she is somewhere and sees an officer around.
“There will be a new name on my list of people I am thankful for this Thanksgiving season.”