Doctor at Idaho restaurant performs life-saving pocket knife surgery on choking man

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IDAHO FALLS ( – A man celebrating his 94th birthday with his family at a local restaurant last Monday would have died if another customer hadn’t been there to help him.

Ty Erickson, a gynecologist at Rosemark Women Care in Idaho Falls, revived the man after he lost consciousness because a piece of food got stuck in his throat.

Erickson tells It happened around 6 p.m. He and some colleagues were ordering something from the menu at Sandpiper when the man at the table next to them started “grabbing his throat.”

“We immediately tried the Heimlich. “Three different people aggressively attempted to remove the obstruction,” Erickson said. “Within a few minutes it became clear that this wasn’t working. He started to turn blue in the face.”

The man had no pulse, so they laid him on the ground and unsuccessfully attempted resuscitation. Erickson knew then that the man would die if he didn’t get oxygen.

He asked if anyone in the restaurant had a pocket knife. A customer brought him one and Erickson began performing a tracheostomy.

He made a cut in the man’s throat and had one of his colleagues lift the trachea (the tube that connects the larynx to the lungs).

“We could hear breathing and he was starting to turn pink, so we realized we were sensing air movement,” Erickson recalls.

When an ambulance arrived, they placed a plastic tube down his windpipe to keep his airway open. The rescue workers stabilized the victim and took him to the hospital.

Erickson hasn’t heard from the man since.

Although the entire ordeal only lasted three or four minutes, Erickson says time is of the essence in a situation like this, and he’s grateful he was in the right place at the right time.

“I feel good that I was able to help another person. Every morning I get up and pray that I have an opportunity to help someone. I didn’t think it would be something like this,” he says with a laugh. “Years of experience…(prepared me) to know exactly what to do and do it calmly.”

To protect his privacy, Erickson did not provide the victim’s name but gave us the phone number of his grandson, who works as an accountant in Idaho Falls.

He did not respond to a request for comment.

Erickson happens to be one of his clients and he read us an email that the accountant sent him the day after the incident.

“He is awake and talking today and seems to be doing well,” the grandson wrote, according to Erickson. “Our family really appreciates you being here.”

He has since heard from other family members who have expressed similar thoughts. One of his colleagues recently told Erickson that the man he saved was a retired judge.

Erickson says it’s hard to say how long it takes to recover from something like this without speaking to him. If the brain has been without oxygen for too long, long-term complications can occur. If he’s communicating without problems except for the hole in his throat, that’s a good sign, Erickson says.

Recovery from the tracheostomy itself usually only takes a few weeks, he says.

“You stitch it up and within a week or two it’s like neck surgery and no big deal,” Erickson says.

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