You Too Can Save a Life

You Too Can Save a Life
I could feel her lower rib under my forearm—I was sure I had cracked it.

“I’ve used these skills more than my gun,” says Area Commander Albert Mendoza of his First Aid skills, after performing a successful Heimlich maneuver on co-worker Linda Zeimet last March. An employee of the Federal Protection Service in Billings, Mendoza is required to attend annual First Aid/CPR/AED refresher courses offered by the American Red Cross.

Prior to rescuing Zeimet, Mendoza had used CPR three times before but he had never applied the Heimlich maneuver, the established technique for clearing an obstruction in a person’s throat or airway. Fortunately for Zeimet, however, Mendoza did not hesitate to jump into action and apply his skills when he noticed his co-worker’s ashen face and sudden silence during a working lunch. Zeimet, remembering the universal sign for choking, had both hands to her throat as she desperately tried to draw a breath.

Commander Mendoza only hesitated a fraction of a second before applying two sharp, open-palmed blows to Linda’s back. He then quickly positioned himself to administer the Heimlich maneuver. “I’m quite a bit bigger than she is,” says Mendoza. “I knew there was a possibility I could hurt her, even crack a rib”. With his fists in place just under her sternum, he quickly thrust upward. Linda remained pale and unresponsive. Once again, Mendoza wrapped his arms around Zeimet’s mid-section, assured himself of the proper placement of his fists, and gave a mighty upward thrust.

“I could feel her lower rib under my forearm—I was sure I had cracked it,” the Commander said. “But I could feel something had happened”. Leaving the struggling Linda in the care of another co-worker, Commander Mendoza quickly dialed 911. After the call, he turned to see that Linda was breathing raggedly, but breathing. The offending piece of food had loosened, and Linda was now able to remove it herself. No more than a few minutes had passed since the start of the episode, but they will be forever etched in the minds of these two co-workers.

Linda had a sore rib for a day or two, but received a clean bill of health from the local emergency room. Area Commander Albert Mendoza just went back to serving the people of Montana. “I’m no hero,” says Commander Mendoza, waving away the praise. But Zeimet disagrees: “Yes he is,” she insists.

The American Red Cross of Montana offers First Aid/CPR/AED training throughout the state of Montana. For more information, or to support this important program with a donation, go to or call 1-800-ARC-MONT (1-800-272-6668).