By Carolyn Comeau
Before masking and social distancing became the new normal, March 10 started off routinely for Mission Hospital Surgical Technologist Ben Holley and Karen Mauldin, a Dental Assistant at Mission Children’s Dental. Strangers until that day, each sat down in the North Tower’s café for a bite of breakfast with their colleagues. Their paths soon crossed, however, and the normalcy of that morning was dramatically upended.
Danger Served Up in an Instant
Just as Holley, 36, was finishing up, Mauldin sat down to start eating. After she took her first bite of scrambled eggs, a bit of food got caught in her airway, preventing her from breathing. She knew immediately that she was in trouble. “It all happened so fast,” said Mauldin. “I couldn’t express that I couldn’t breathe, it was very scary. I thought I’d pass out.”
Holley overheard Mauldin’s workmate ask if she was okay. “I turned around and she was frantically shaking her head no,” he recounted.
Mauldin stood up and positioned her chair as if she was going to use it to perform the Heimlich maneuver on herself. “I’d recently attended a work CPR training and learned this is what to do if you’re alone,” she explained.
“I thought, this is not happening,” said Holley, who’d cleared a child’s airway many years ago as a teen lifeguard.
“I Got You”
Holley recognized the panic in Mauldin’s eyes and jumped into action. “I don’t remember much because it was so automatic,” he explained. “But, I said something like ‘I got you’ and put my arms around her.”
Mauldin couldn’t even see Holley because he was behind her. “Next thing I knew I felt someone’s hands grab me, pick me up and start performing the Heimlich maneuver,” stated Mauldin. During those seconds, Mauldin wondered if she’d die and how her family would hear the news.
Holley noted that neither of his first two attempts at dislodging the food worked, which heightened his sense of urgency. “I applied more pressure each time, and by the third try I was really forceful,” he said.
“My feet were actually off the ground that last time,” said Mauldin. “I heard little sounds coming out of me and took my first deep breath.”
Happy, Healthy Ending
Holley was greatly relieved, but made a quick exit before Mauldin — understandably stunned — got a chance to thank him for his heroic deed. Mauldin’s supervisor arranged for the two to meet formally the following week, under unquestionably happier circumstances.
“I asked if he was the one who saved my life,” said Mauldin. “He nodded and I told him how grateful my family and I were that he chose to be a responder and not sit on the sidelines.”
Holley reacted humbly. “I just did what was right because we should all be good to each other,” he said.
Mauldin, however, saw things a bit differently. “Ben’s my angel now. No words can accurately express my gratitude. He’s earned a prayer on my lips every single day of my life.”
Ben Holley is a Mission Hospital Surgical Technologist.
Karen Mauldin is a Dental Assistant at Mission Children’s Dental.