News from 2022-2023

Posted: April 21, 2023

School Custodian Saves Choking Fifth-Grader

La Mesa employee learned the Heimlich maneuver when her own son was in Boy Scouts.

La Mesa lead custodian Janet Garcia and fifth-grader Christian Ortiz Gonzales hug.

La Mesa lead custodian Janet Garcia and fifth-grader Christian Ortiz Gonzales hug.

La Mesa Elementary fifth-grader Christian Ortiz Gonzales had just begun eating his Frito pie in the school cafeteria on Thursday when he ran into trouble.

One of the Fritos was stuck in his throat, and he was struggling to breathe.

“I kept coughing and was kind of crying,” Christian said as he described the scary experience. “I thought I wasn’t going to make it. I was also praying in my mind that God would save me.”

Christian managed to get to his feet and alert an educational assistant that he was in trouble.

“When he approached her, he just collapsed, and she couldn’t hold him up to do the Heimlich on him,” said Janet Garcia, who rushed over when she saw that Christian was in trouble.

Outside the cafeteria, Dean of Students Josie Chávez heard the commotion and headed over to investigate. She immediately called for the nurse.

“I didn’t know if (the nurse) could get here quick enough because he had collapsed, and right away I thought he’s not getting any air,” Garcia recalled.

Garcia got behind Christian and administered the Heimlich maneuver – wrapping her arms around the boy, placing her fists between his ribcage and belly button, and thrusting her hands into his abdomen three or four times.

Garcia, La Mesa’s lead custodian, said it felt like an eternity before the Frito dislodged from Christian’s throat and he was able to breathe again.

“It was really frightening. I cried afterward,” she admitted.

On Friday, a day after the ordeal, Christian hugged Garcia.

“Thank you for saving me. I really appreciate it,” the 11-year-old told her, as he recounted what had happened.

Garcia, who has worked at APS for 10 years but has only been at La Mesa since September, praised Christian for alerting an adult that he was in trouble, calling him courageous. She said she learned the Heimlich maneuver when her son was in Boy Scouts.

“It feels wonderful because I wasn’t aware I was capable of doing that,” Garcia said when asked how it felt to save the fifth grader’s life. “I just think it’s instinct.”

As for Christian, he said he’s feeling fine and still loves Frito pies, though he notes he probably won’t be eating one anytime soon because he’s a little afraid.