Mercer area girl dies after choking at school

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By Elise Franco

Mercer, Pa.

Aizeya Mattocks was at least given a fighting chance to survive thanks to cafeteria staff who stepped in quickly to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, a medical official said.

Aizeya, a third-grader at Mercer Area Elementary School, died Wednesday evening at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. She was taken there after choking on a hot dog Monday during lunch at her school.

An autopsy wasn’t performed by the Allegheny County Coroner’s office, but Aizeya’s cause of death was ruled as asphyxia due to choking, said Rock Lorah, coroner’s office supervisor.

Dr. William Gathers, superintendent of the Mercer Area School District, said it’s not yet known how the 8-year-old began choking, but CPR was administered as soon as she became distressed. Gathers said all cafeteria monitors are trained in CPR.

“She was given CPR by a cafeteria aide and then the school nurse until the ambulance arrived and took her away,” he said.

Gathers said his staff did everything they could to aid the child.

“Unfortunately it resulted in something very tragic,” he added.

Lisa Parbi, injury-prevention specialist for Akron Children’s Hospital main campus in Akron, said that even though the child eventually died, school staff administering CPR increased her chance of surviving.

“That was a good thing that somebody stepped in and tried to resuscitate her,” Parbi said. “This should raise awareness of how important those skills are. They can make a difference, and they probably did make a difference, despite the outcome.”

Gathers said counselors were on campus Thursday to help grieving students and staff. He said a similar choking death has never occurred in his 33 years in the district.

“Our thoughts and prayers are certainly with the family in this grave time,” he said.

Parbi said that it’s easy for children to forget the importance of completely chewing and swallowing food, especially when eating in a social environment such as a school cafeteria.

“Talking, laughing, coughing, anything to do with the airway that you’re doing while you’re eating could cause you to choke,” she said. “Normally, in younger children, their airway is smaller, so it doesn’t take very much to block it.”

Linda Davis-Alldritt, president of the National Association of School Nurses, said the choking death supports her belief that more education on the topic is needed.

“By school age, it’s important to help kids recognize that they need to focus on eating and chewing,” she said.

Davis-Alldritt said the education could come in the form of classroom lessons, as well as discussions among parents and their children.

“Children are children, and it’s up to the adults to help remind them,” she said. “Dinner time at home is an opportunity to discuss table manners like not talking with a mouthful of food and also chewing and swallowing.”

Both officials said adults overseeing a lunchroom should watch children carefully.

“In general, we don’t really supervise older children as much as we do younger ones. And it’s because the choking is something that’s not typical of this age group,” Parbi said.

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