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Air Force fencer performs Heimlich to save Colorado Springs teen

February 21, 2014 Updated: February 21, 2014 at 5:14 pm
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photo - Madeleine Girardot
Madeleine Girardot 

Air Force fencer Madeleine Girardot leaned on her training in a life-or-death situation, and in doing so may have saved the life of a Colorado Springs teen.

When Girardot, a sophomore, spotted 15-year-old Helen Landwehr in distress at a Japanese restaurant in Virginia Beach on Jan. 18, she immediately utilized the skills she learned as a CPR- and AED-certified lifeguard during high school in Atlanta.

"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," Girardot said in an Air Force news release.

Landwehr, a sophomore at Air Academy and also a competitive fencer who this week took seventh at the Junior Olympic Championships in Oregon, was sitting near the Air Force team at the restaurant after the fencers had competed at the North American Cup. According to Falcons fencing coach Abdel Salem, Landwehr began looking at her mother but was unable to speak. Tears started falling as though "a faucet had suddenly turned on inside her eyes."

That is when Girardot took charge, asking Helen if she was choking, then stepping behind her to deliver to strong blows. When that did not dislodge the food, Girardot told Landwehr to stand and began performing the Heimlich maneuver.

Everyone quickly returned to their meal, with Girardot receiving praise from nearby witnesses. That praise continued later when Salem received an email from Landwehr's club coach saying, "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."

Girardot, who sports a 56-15 career record, never treated the incident as though it was anything heroic.

"It is important for everyone to know basic life-saving techniques," Girardot said, "because you never know when and if you might be in a situation where you will need to use them."

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