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Choking: There’s a better way to save a life

Choking: There’s a better way to save a life

My daughter Jasmine died in August 2014 after she choked on a grape while we were on holiday. She was 6 years old. When she began to choke, I knew what I needed to do, I knew how to remove the blockage as I’d done 4 or 5 first aid courses in the past and I didn’t hesitate. When you go on a first aid course they show what you what to do in situations like this. Back slaps, followed by abdominal thrusts and repeat until the blockage is removed. If that doesn’t work, phone 999 and perform CPR. It sounds simple, but in some cases, it’s not.

Some things when they’re stuck, they remain stuck, no matter how hard you hit someone’s back or how many times you carry out abdominal thrusts. It’s a myth (a very hurtful one) that if you learn a bit of first aid, then people won’t choke to death. They do. And the reason they do is because back slaps and abdominal thrusts on their own aren’t always effective ways of removing a blockage. But, unless you live next door to an Accident and Emergency Dept, what else are you meant to do? You can’t do nothing, that’s not an option, so you’re left with the back slaps and abdominal thrusts as the only real option when someone’s choking. Both methods are risky, back slaps can in some instances make the blockage worse and abdominal thrusts can cause internal injuries. But, if I was ever faced with that situation again, I wouldn’t hesitate to use them, because you’d rather deal with some injuries than have to plan a funeral. The choice is that stark.

What you also don’t get taught on a first aid course is how you mentally deal with a situation where the time on your child’s life is ticking away fast and you’re powerless to do anything about it. By the time Jasmine collapsed and needed CPR, I couldn’t do it and I didn’t think to do it. Even though, if you’d have asked a few minutes earlier what you should do in that scenario, I’d have been able to tell you without any problem. Fortunately, someone else came to help at that moment and took over. I can’t emphasise enough how quick things can go bad and even when you are prepared (or at least you think you are), you can’t predict how you will react in this situation. It’s out of your control.

Also in 2014, a man named Arthur Lih became aware of a lady in hospital whose son had died. Like Jasmine, this little boy died after choking on a grape and like Jasmine, the back slaps and abdominal thrusts didn’t work. It had a profound effect on Arthur, who then made it his personal mission to invent something that could save lives. And he did. It’s called Lifevac.

Lifevac is non-powered single patient, portable suction device. It is designed to remove blockages in the throat without causing injury to the patient and it doesn’t blow air into the person who is choking. This video shows how simple the device is to use. The video also shows how the device can be used on a patient who is wheelchair bound.

The device is registered by the FDA in the United States and by Health Canada. It is also registered by the Medical Healthcare products and Regulatory Agency (MHRA) here in the UK. Recently, the MHRA renewed the registrations for Lifevac in the UK, but with some restrictions. Lifevac are not allowed to sell the product to schools or similar organisations until further studies have shown that Lifevac poses no harm to children. There are no similar restrictions in place in the USA.

As someone who has lost a child due to choking, I cannot understand the position of MHRA. Their rational is that they’re not 100% convinced that the device does not cause harm to children. Yet, the only way of currently removing a blockage outside of hospital is to forcefully hit someone on the back or cause enough force on their abdomen that they involuntarily expel the blockage, potentially injuring the patient in the process. It makes no sense.

I have a hypothetical question for the decision makers at the MHRA. If you were in a restaurant and your child started choking and the back slaps and the abdominal thrusts weren’t working, would you use a Lifevac if you had one to hand? If your answer is ‘no, we haven’t had the test results back on its potential risks’, then you’re lying. The honest answer is that you would do anything at that moment to try and save your child’s life.

If someone needs a Lifevac used on them, it’s because they are going to die. It’s that simple. This device saves lives, 8 at the last count. And the more widely its used, the more lives it will save. In my view, Lifevac should be in every home, school, nursery, hospital, care home, snack bar, café, restaurant and anywhere where people gather to eat. It’s relatively inexpensive and it works.

Lifevac doesn’t replace first aid, it supplements it. People should go on first aid courses as they’re important, but the use of Lifevac should become part of first aid training and it should be as widely available as defibrillators have rightly become in recent years.

I’ve no doubt that had we had one of these devices 3 years ago, then Jasmine would still be here. Instead we are left to pick up the pieces and deal with her loss and the traumatic events of the night she died. But, there’s no reason for other lives to be lost in the same, senseless, horrific manner. Not anymore. There is a better way to save the life of someone choking and the MHRA should get behind this and allow Lifevac to save even more lives.

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