For little children, the act of crawling, walking, touching, and putting things in their mouth means exploring the world they live in. Unfortunately, the newfound freedom also means an increased risk of choking - and parents or adults should remain vigilant. Marga Scheepers, an ER24 medic, shares the story of how a single leaf became a choking hazard for a 10-month-old.

What causes choking?

Choking happens when an object, often a piece of food, gets stuck in the airway. Young children and babies are likely to choke on food or something they have put into their mouths.

Marga received a call from the Roodekrans Neighbourhood Watch (RNW) control room for a baby choking on an object.

“The grandmother was babysitting the baby when she saw that the infant was choking on something. She immediately phoned the RNW control room where the baby’s mom works. I then got the call and responded to the home,” said Marga.

When Marga arrived at the scene, the grandmother had already started first aid and performed back blows on the infant.

“Fortunately, when I took over and turned the infant around, I could see the object in the mouth – a leaf. I managed to remove the leaf from the infant’s throat with a hooked finger. The baby had a little bit of blood in his mouth, but after I assessed him and his airway, he was found to be unharmed. The leaf and its stem scraped his throat, which caused the most damage. A very happy ending indeed, which all started with the grandmother’s first aid and fast thinking.”

Marga, who falls under the Johannesburg West branch, responds in an ER24 community response vehicle and mostly services the community of the West Rand.

“I work closely with the various neighbourhood watch groups as well as with security companies. If something happens in the various communities, I try to be there. It is wonderful to work closely with the communities; you meet new people, and people get to know you as well.

“The Roodekrans Neighbourhood Watch help us a lot as they administer first aid before we get to a scene, they help to secure a scene, and they help with the clearing up afterwards. Working within your community is beneficial for both parties, as the one always helps the other, and that is what makes it so special,” said Marga.

“If it wasn’t for Marga and her incredible training and skills, things might have turned out very differently,” says Kirsten Long, a first responder with RNW. “From RNW, and all who were involved, I would personally like to thank Marga for being as wonderful as she is and for coming to our rescue. We know when Marga is in our area, we have a highly-skilled, highly-trained and very efficient paramedic to rely on. She is a pleasure to work with.”

Tips on how to prevent children from choking:

  • Supervise young children while eating. Insist that children eat sitting quietly, preferably at the table. They should never run, play or lie down with food in their mouths.
  • Don’t give a small child large chunks of food that could break off and obstruct the airway.  Rather provide soft food.
  • Beware of older children’s actions. Many choking accidents occur when older siblings give dangerous foods, toys or small objects to a younger child. Check toys for small detachable parts. Follow age recommendations on toy packages.
  • Cut foods for infants and young children into pieces under 2cm. Teach them to chew well.
  • Before a child begins to crawl, go down on his level and look for dangerous items. Balloons and coins pose a big choking risk. Check under furniture and between cushions for small items.

Call for an ambulance on 084 124.

Do you know what to do when your child is choking?