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Sarah Desthers

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Sarah Desthers, a Smithtown High School West student, saved her mother using techniques she learned in an elective course taught by Cherie Diamond. Photo from Kim Desthers

It can be difficult to stay calm, cool and collected in certain situations, never mind when one’s mother is choking. Somehow, Sarah Desthers managed to do just that on the night of Jan. 12.

Cherie Diamond with teaching the first aid elective course. Photo from Cherie Diamond

The 15-year-old remembered vital lessons she learned in her first aid/CPR elective health course at Smithtown High School West when she walked into the kitchen and realized her mother Kim was choking and saved her life.

Kim Desthers said she was cleaning up the kitchen after a late dinner when she took a spoonful of food and choked on it. Sarah had just come out of her room, the mother said and noticed something was wrong with her.

While she doesn’t remember much about the few minutes she was choking, Kim Desthers said her daughter realized she wasn’t making any noise and asked if she was OK.

“I was really too stunned to even respond,” the mother said. “I was so scared.”

She added that being a dental hygienist who knows first aid techniques such as the Heimlich maneuver and CPR, she was a bit embarrassed to find herself in the situation.

“I just stopped short,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do.”

The mother of three said her daughter asked, “Mom are you choking?” When she couldn’t respond, Sarah said to her, “You have to nod. If I need to give you the Heimlich, you need to nod. I need to know.”

The mother said once she nodded her head, her daughter sprang into action. She didn’t even call for her father, who is a New York City firefighter, she just began the lifesaving technique.

Kim Desthers said there was a moment when she thought she was going to die.

“I can’t die,” she said to herself. “I need to be a mom to all these kids.”

The first aid elective course taught by Cherie Diamond is one Sarah decided to take because she is planning to be a camp counselor this summer, and she’s glad she did. The high school sophomore said a lot was going through her head as she realized her mother was choking.

“When you’re in that kind of situation, there is no time to hesitate, because my mom’s life was at risk,” she said. “And that’s one of the scariest things that could ever happen.”

She said in addition to learning how to do the maneuver, Diamond has taught the students to stay levelheaded. Sarah said after not only taking the class but going through the experience of using the Heimlich, she has some advice for those who may find themselves in similar situations.

“Just stay ahead of what’s going on,” the student said. “Always be listening. Pay attention if you think something’s wrong. Just don’t panic. Panicking is probably the worst thing you could do. Just figure out what’s wrong and try to help them.”

Sarah said even though COVID protocols may have made taking the first aid class more difficult Diamond made sure the students could be hands-on as much as possible.

“I appreciate that,” Sarah said. “She’s a very good teacher, and she helped me save my mom’s life.”

Diamond, who has been teaching the class in schools for more than 20 years, said it’s the first time that a student has had to use the technique while still in her class.

“You can’t ask for anything more as a teacher than to have your students apply the information they learned, much less a lifesaving device,” the teacher said.

She’s also proud of how calm Sarah stayed in the situation.

“When you come across a first aid situation, you not only have to control your own anxiety but also the anxiety of someone who may be seriously hurt,” she said. “You have to be able to control your own emotions enough to be clear in thought, and to be able to do what you have to do and not panic and freeze.”

The teacher believes everyone should get first aid training and recommends Advanced Training Center of Long Island in Smithtown. For more information, go to the website advancedtrainingcenterli.com.