Crystal Lake School District 155 custodian Mike Cruz successfully performed the Heimlich maneuver on a student who could not breathe after choking on food last month at Crystal Lake South High School. | Provided Photo

School officials are hailing a custodian at Crystal Lake South High School for saving the life of a student who began choking during lunch period.

Mike Cruz, a custodian at Crystal Lake South High School, was in the right place at the right time on February 18.

Fifth-hour lunch period was just beginning at 10:45 a.m. when Cruz was making his rounds and cleaning tables in the cafeteria, district officials said.

Alexis Bennett was sitting alone while eating lunch after physical education class.

“I took my first bite and food was lodged in my throat when I swallowed. I couldn’t talk because I was choking,” Bennett said.

Bennett reacted calmly, stood up trying to dislodge the food herself and then realized she needed to find an adult immediately.

She was struggling to breathe when she approached Cruz, school officials said.

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“I thought she had to vomit so I grabbed a trash can and then realized she was choking. I tried to vocalize what I was going to do. I told her I was going to pat her on the back a few times and see if that helps,” Cruz said.

“Nothing happened, so I said I was going to try the Heimlich. It didn’t work the first time,” he said.

A school security officer walked up and made a call over the radio to the school nurse and administration to report that a student was not breathing in the cafeteria.

Cruz performed the Heimlich a second time and the food came out.

He grabbed a water bottle for the student as the nurse and vice-principal arrived. Bennett was taken to the nurse’s office to be evaluated.

“The Heimlich didn’t hurt like I thought it would. He just helped me out when I needed him. I haven’t really seen him around and I would thank him for saving my life,” she said.

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Cruz said he knew what to do because of training from a first aid class he took before his son was born almost three years ago.

“My wife made me enroll in a class with her. It was a good thing because it stuck with me. I learned how to perform CPR and the Heimlich on an infant, toddler and adult,” Cruz said.

“It’s one of those things that you learn, but hope you never have to use. I’m glad I took the class,” he added.

Bennett said she is doing well since the incident and is proud of herself for not panicking and getting help quickly. “It’s really important to find someone who can help because you’re going to need help.”