Christian Ortiz Gonzales, 11, almost died Thursday.
As the fifth grader happily ate his Frito pie for lunch at La Mesa Elementary School, laughing with friends, he swallowed one of the chips a little too quickly and it lodged deep in his throat. Choking, he stood up and leaned against a wall, trying to explain what was going on but unable to breathe or speak.
“I was kind of crying because I thought that I wasn’t going to be able to make it,” Ortiz Gonzales recalled Friday in front of reporters. “I was … praying in my mind that God would save me.”
To the rescue came custodian Janet Garcia.
She rushed in, and with the help of other staff got Ortiz Gonzales, who had collapsed, off the ground. Worried the nurse wouldn’t get there in time, Garcia wrapped her arms around him from behind, and began giving him the Heimlich maneuver.
“It seemed like forever,” Garcia said. “I just could not get it dislodged.”
Finally, Ortiz Gonzales coughed up the chip. He was taken to the school nurse, who made sure he was all right before allowing him back to class, where he was met with concerned and crying classmates at the school in Albuquerque’s International District.
What Ortiz Gonzales really wanted was to thank his savior. Before he left school, he said he found Garcia and made sure to thank and hug her.
After his near-death experience, Ortiz Gonzales said it may take some time to come back around on Frito pies.
“I kind of like them but … I’m more scared to eat another one,” he said.
But he hasn’t given up on them yet — next time, maybe he’ll just eat a little slower.