AKRON, Ohio (WJW) – Monday was the first day of school at Betty Jane Community Learning Center, an Ohio elementary school where only the fourth and fifth grades were in session at the time.
It was also Darby Baumberger’s first day as an assistant principal.
“It just started out normal as could be. I greeted students at the front door, and then I’m always in charge of lunch duties, so that was my first big job with the kids,” she said.
Baumberger was collecting trash at the end of the final lunch period when she heard 9-year-old Arthur Clark, a fourth-grader, coughing behind her, she said.
“It wasn’t like a normal cough, and then I turned, and I said, ’Are you okay?’ He didn’t really respond. He bent over the table, and he continued to cough,” said Baumberger.
Arthur said it happened when he was chatting over lunch.
“I was talking to one of my cousins. He said something really funny while I was eating my corn dogs,” he told WJW on Thursday.
He said he started choking.
“It felt like something was in my throat. My throat was itchy, it was like hurting and stuff,” said Arthur.
Surveillance video from a camera in the school lunchroom shows Baumberger rushing around the table to stand Arthur up.
She said she delivered several blows to his back, but he continued coughing, and soon afterward, he couldn’t breathe at all.
“I looked at my principal, and she was saying, ‘I’ll get the nurse! I’ll get the nurse!’ But in my head, I’m like, there’s no time for that because I could tell he stopped breathing,” said Baumberger.
In the video, she is seen wrapping her arms around Arthur and using the Heimlich maneuver to deliver two light thrusts, but the boy was still unable to breathe.
“It didn’t hurt that bad those two times. The other two times she like did it harder,” Arthur said.
“I did it two times a little harder, and on the fourth time, it dislodged,” said Baumberger.
“She definitely knew what she was doing,” Arthur said, adding: “My momma is very, very grateful that she was there.”
His mother, Ashley Howell, affirmed her gratitude.
“He’s at school. I’m not able to be here, and thank God somebody was here,” said Howell. “We had a scary moment on Monday, but I’m just so happy that Ms. Baumberger was there and she reacted the way she reacted.”
Baumberger said in her 26 years of working in education, she had never done anything like that before and really never had any formal Heimlich training. She said it’s not required for her job, but she decided to learn on her own.
She said the significance of her actions didn’t hit her until it was over.
“When I did it, I didn’t even really think about it. I just thought, ‘It’s my job. I’m here to keep these kids safe,’ so I didn’t really hesitate. I was just like, ‘This is what I have got to do.'”
During lunch Thursday, with all grades present, she instructed children to make sure they thoroughly chew their food before swallowing and to let someone know if they feel like they are choking.
Howell said her son is fine, although he didn’t want to eat anything after he got home.
Arthur said although he really likes corn dogs, it will be some time before he wants to eat them again.