In the Loop

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September 14th, 2017

Break Room Choking Incident Brings Mayo Colleagues Closer

By In the Loop

When Amber Swaagman began choking on her lunch inside a Mayo Clinic breakroom last month, everyone around her momentarily froze in shock. Everyone, except Kaylianna Ott.

Amber Swaagman's lunch break one day last month was far from relaxing after she began choking on her food. Thankfully, friend and colleague Kaylianna Ott immediately stepped in to help.


If you're going to choke on your breakfast, second breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, midafternoon snack, or dinner, there's probably no better place to do so than in a Mayo Clinic break room. Just ask Amber Swaagman, who experienced that very thing last month.

Amber tells us the day started like any other Monday. But that changed when she began eating lunch in a break room on Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus. "I did feel like the first bite I took was too big, but I thought I could get it under control," Amber, a clinical lab tech, tells us. However, panic set in as the bite of chicken lodged itself in her airway. "I started making this weird swallowing sound," Amber says. "It didn't occur to me that I was actually choking until I started to not be able to breathe. And even then, I still thought I could resolve things on my own."

When she realized she needed help, Amber looked to her friend and colleague, Kaylianna Ott. "We were just sitting there having a normal conversation but then Amber just stopped talking," Kaylianna tells us. "I looked at her to see if she was OK and her eyes had gotten super wide. I asked her like three times, 'Amber, are you OK?' and she tried to breathe but she just made this really horrible wheezing sound. She then started frantically shaking her head 'No!'"

At that point, Kaylianna says instinct and muscle memory from a babysitting class she'd taken when she was 12 kicked in. "I got up behind her and tried giving her the Heimlich maneuver," Kaylianna says. "When that didn't work, I slapped her hard between her shoulder blades a few times, but that also didn't work."

Kaylianna then helped Amber stand and began administering the Heimlich maneuver again. "I did that a few more times and, thankfully, it finally worked," she tells us. "Amber coughed up her food and was finally able to breathe freely again. The whole thing was honestly pretty terrifying."

It could have become more terrifying had Kaylianna not immediately come to Amber's aid. "At that moment it became, 'I need to do the Heimlich maneuver right now or Amber's not going to be able to breathe and we're going to have a much bigger issue on our hands,'" Kaylianna tells us. "I just got up and did what I felt needed to be done."

And for that, Amber is forever grateful. "I'm so glad Kayli was there and did what she did," Amber tells us. "It's absolutely changed our friendship, and I'll never forget what she did for me. She saved my life."

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Tags: Choking, Employee Stories, Heimlich maneuver, Mayo Clinic Rochester

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