Trained to save lives

PV teacher rescues choking student


Evan Mathai

Pascack Valley family and consumer sciences teacher Julianne Downes rescued a student who was choking in one of her classes. Downes knew how to do the Heimlich maneuver from receiving training as a new teacher when she started teaching at PV four years ago.

When family and consumer sciences teacher Julianne Downes did the Heimlich maneuver on one of her students during her class on Mar. 13, it was not her first time saving someone who was choking. Her now 18-year-old son, Brendan, was two years old when he choked on the steering wheel of a toy car.

Downes’ sons were playing downstairs when Brendan’s older brother ran upstairs to tell her that his brother was choking.

“I ran downstairs to the playroom and grabbed him by his feet because that was my instinct,” Downes said. “I smacked him on the back because he was upside down. Out popped this little plastic steering wheel. I credit my older son who was so little at the time for really saving his little brother’s life.”

Sixteen years later, Downes saved one of her students. Downes’ class was making chicken parmesan as a part of a culinary lab. The product was finished and the class was eating their food.

“I tried to take a bite of the chicken and I really didn’t chew it up that much,” the student said. “I thought I was going to be fine but everything just kind of stopped and my jaw locked open.”

The student started hitting themselves in the chest and Downes noticed that the student was choking.

“I went over to [the student] and [the student] pointed to [their] throat and I knew immediately what was going on,” Downes said.

Downes pulled the student in front of the garbage and started the Heimlich maneuver immediately. She called out to her other students to get William Lynch, a math teacher across the hall, and the school nurse, Diane Fallon.

“It took me maybe 15 to 20 compressions with the Heimlich and then eventually the food dislodged,” Downes said.

The student is grateful that Downes was able to help.

“I’m just glad it was her,” the student said.

Downes knew how to do the Heimlich maneuver from receiving training as a new teacher when she started teaching at PV four years ago. She also took a class at the American Red Cross after her son choked.

“[As my son was choking] I was crying and I was a mess, but the next day, I signed up for the Red Cross training and felt better as a parent,” Downes said.

From fashion to teaching

Downes always knew she wanted to be a family and consumer sciences teacher. She planned on majoring in it at The University of Rhode Island.

“I was told by my advisor that there would be no jobs and that I should choose fashion,” Downes said.

Downes was very into fashion at the time, so she got a degree in fashion merchandising and design. She went on to work in Manhattan, pursuing design and merchandising for companies like Calvin Klein.

After she had her sons, Downes had difficulty keeping up with the long hours, so she started working for a local architect as an interior decorator which was another passion of Downes’.

“I was able to dabble interior decorating and be with my kids as well,” Downes said.

To make extra income, Downes started subbing. Through subbing, Downes met PV’s Assistant Principal Debbie Squiccimarri who said that “[Downes would be a] really great consumer science teacher.”

Downes received the certification and worked at Northern Highlands High School as family consumer science teacher for a few years.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do what you want to do because it just happened organically,” Downes said.

Then, the same position became available at PV.  Downes took the job because she lives close to PV and her nieces and nephews all went to the school.

“I am so thankful for the support here,” Downes said. “I have great fellow teachers and I have great administrators that really keep us in the loop and keep us inspired to constantly learn how to better our students and our staff.”