Air Force fencer performs life-saving action

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Air Force sophomore fencer Madeleine Girardot, Atlanta, CS-23, performed the life-saving Heimlich maneuver on a young fencer, Helen Landwehr from Colorado Springs while at the North American Cup in Virginia Beach, Jan. 18.

Girardot is a second year cadet on the fencing team.

As told by Head Coach Abdel Salem: After a long day of fencing at the North American Cup in Virginia Beach, the Air Force fencing team went to dinner at a Japanese restaurant. There were a lot of other fencers at the restaurant and the team ended up sitting next to some fencers from Colorado Springs. Madeleine was sitting three seats away from Helen.

"Helen is a quiet fifteen year old young lady and was at the dinner sitting across from her mother," according to Salem. "We were all engaged in conversation throughout the evening. Suddenly, Helen started looking at her mother. She did not say anything, but tears were running from her eyes, in a way that I had never experienced before. It was like a faucet had suddenly turned on inside her eyes," she said.

"Helen's mom asked, 'Helen, what's wrong?'" Landwehr did not answer, but the tears kept rolling. "At this point, Girardot approached the girl and asked if she were choking. She did not respond as tears still streamed down her face, and her lips had a strange blue color to them. Madeleine came up behind Helen's seat and delivered two strong blows to the girl's back," Salem related.

"It did not appear to be working because Helen was still crying, unable to speak or breathe, and was slowly turning more blue. Madeleine authoritatively said to Helen "If you are choking stand up now." Landwehr stood up, still looking very distressed as Madeleine placed herself behind Helen and performed the Heimlich maneuver.

"I was very impressed with Madeleine for taking charge of the situation," said Salem. After administering the Heimlich maneuver twice, Landwehr seemed relieved and less stressed even as the tears were still falling. She looked very embarrassed, but still smiled. It seemed like no one knew exactly what was going on. Even Landwehr sounded as if she did not fully understand what was happening. Girardot assured everyone that everything was okay.

When Girardot saw Landwehr smiling, breathing, and able to talk, she returned to her seat. When others asked why nothing came out of Landwehr's mouth as it does in the movies, Landwehr said that she could not breathe or talk and that when Girardot performed the Heimlich maneuver, she felt something come out of her throat. She said she was too embarrassed to spit it out because that would be impolite, so she swallowed the piece of food. After that, she felt better. Everyone was happy and Landwehr, although a little hesitant to eat again, carefully began her meal and enjoy her night.

Girardot received a lot of praise from the adults, cadets, other fencers and the waitress. Nonetheless, she did not act as if she had done anything heroic. On the contrary, she only saw herself as sensing someone in need and stepping in to help. Later, Landwehr's coach sent an email that said, "Helen's mother wants everyone to know about the incident and how grateful and impressed she was at the confidence and skill Madeleine demonstrated. She told her entire club that one of the Academy's fencers had saved her daughter's life."

"I knew she was choking because she started off trying to cough, and when I looked back a few moments later she appeared not to be breathing, there were tears pouring down her face, and she looked a little different color," said Girardot.

"In high school I was a lifeguard, I am CPR AED certified and learned all of those techniques, including the Heimlich maneuver."
Girardot adds, "I think it is important for everyone to know basic life-saving techniques because you never know when and if you might be in a situation where you will need to use them."


NOTE: Media interested in interviewing C3C Girardot should contact the Air Force Academy Public Affairs office at 719-333-7731.