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Sandy Journal

Classmate, custodian save Silver Mesa first-grader’s life

Feb 16, 2021 03:01PM ● By Julie Slama

Silver Mesa student Samantha Fish gives custodian Doug Christensen a hug after he performed a Heimlich abdominal thrust on the first-grader who choked on a tater tot. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Nobody taught first-grader Gwen Christiansen what to do. She just reacted on instinct.

“We were just talking at lunch and she started choking,” Gwen said about her friend and classmate, Samantha Fish, swallowing a tater tot whole. “I saw Doug and ran over and tapped his shoulder and told him, ‘Sam is choking.’ She was crying and couldn’t talk. I don’t like having my friend almost die.”

Doug is custodian Doug Christensen who was monitoring the lunchroom at Silver Mesa Elementary while helping students clean up after themselves. Doug also is a former emergency medical technician, who quickly and calmly performed a Heimlich abdominal thrust on the first-grader.

“It came out on the first thrust,” he said. “It was a normal reaction and I’ve done it before, but I stayed with them to make sure she was OK, and they weren’t too freaked out before I reported it. I’d do it for anyone.”

That wasn’t an act of heroism, he said, but rather upholding the oath he took as an EMT about 25 years ago. 

His first experience coming to the aid of someone was as a teenager. He helped his sister, who overdosed and tried to swallow her tongue while being comatose. He also helped a lady whose car backed over her when she was carrying groceries. 

Another time, Christensen helped a fellow Canyons colleague after he slipped on ice.

“He couldn’t move. He had a concussion; he cracked his skull and his eyes were rolled back,” Christensen recalled. “I’ve just been in the right place at the right time and could jump in to help.”

While Canyons Board of Education and Sandy Mayor Kurt Bradburn have called him a “superhero” and recognized his heroic efforts, Christensen brushes them aside. He is more comfortable out of the limelight, helping students open up their milk or ketchup or answering their questions.

“Kids have asked me about the Heimlich maneuver and I’ve shown them so they understand what happened and what they can do,” he said, adding that he likes to set an example to not only Silver Mesa’s student body, but also to his niece and nephew who he is helping raise after bringing up his own children.

Samantha said it “felt weird and scary” having the tater tot stuck in her throat.

She said Doug is her hero.

“She came up to me and said, ‘Thank you for saving my life.’ It got me in the heart,” Christensen said. “I love these kids.”