‘That’s when I got in trouble’

On her third try, daughter saves choking father with the Heimlich Maneuver. Safety training helped her stay calm.

December 25, 2009|By Joseph Serna

If ever there was a recipe for a tragic ending, this was it.

As Kate Mulvehill moved about her Newport Beach home Monday night, preparing for her radio training with the local Community Emergency Response Team, her father, Bill Mulvehill, 83, sat in another part of the room, eating steak.

Bill said he likes his steak on the rare side. Given that it was a filet mignon, he was sure to savor it. This one, apparently, was a little tough, he said. Add the arthritis in his hands, and Mulvehill spared himself the work of slicing the steak into smaller pieces.


“That’s when I got into trouble,” Bill Mulvehill said. “I knew right away it was lodged in my throat.”

From the other room, Kate said she heard a weird gasp, silence, then another gasp. She walked in to check on her father and saw him standing, his back hunched over and signaling that he couldn’t breathe.

“I wasn’t thinking of anything except desperately trying to get air,” Bill Mulvehill said.

A worried, but not panicked, Kate Mulvehill wrapped her arms around her father and tried to do the Heimlich Maneuver. No luck.

She reached for the cordless phone next to where her father was eating to call 911, but it wasn’t there. She quickly scanned the room but couldn’t find the phone. Kate’s father must have knocked it down and it fell under his seat when he hunched over to try and get air, she would say later. By this time, he was losing color in his face after collapsing to the ground.

After another couple tried to get her father breathing, Kate ran across the street and told her neighbors to call 911.

Again, no luck.

Their phone wasn’t working for some reason, as they ran into the Mulvehill house to help. Kate knew they had to reach 911, so she ran to the next house.

Finally, a break.

The neighbors called 911 and told the dispatcher the situation.

Back in the Mulvehill house, Bill was now lying on his side and going in and out of consciousness. His hands were white, his face blue.

“I was 10 or 15 seconds away from being a goner,” he said.

Kate Mulvehill and her neighbor picked up her father, who was limp, and slung him over the chair. They tried the Heimlich again. And again, no luck.

Outside, neighbors were flagging down arriving paramedics and waving them into the house.

On one last try, Kate Mulvehill pulled her dying father’s hips up so he was on his knees. She had him put his arms out so he was on all fours, and pulled tight on his abdomen. Out came that almost-deadly piece of steak.

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