Alyse Kelm is usually just a server at the Olive Tree Family Restaurant on Broadway in Lancaster. But on the morning of Nov. 24, she became a lifesaver.
She was going about her job at the restaurant when a woman started choking on a chunk of steak. Kelm immediately approached the woman from the back and performed the Heimlich maneuver. The food became dislodged, and the young Cheektowaga woman was credited with saving the older woman’s life.
Ironically, the woman who was choking, Ginny Caine of Depew, also had learned first aid and CPR through the same volunteer agency as Kelm, the Lancaster Volunteer Ambulance Corps, which has trained the public in lifesaving skills for decades.
The two were reunited Saturday during a ceremony at the Olive Tree where Kelm was presented a proclamation from the Town of Lancaster and a lifesaver award from the ambulance corps.
In October, Kelm took the class at Cheektowaga High School as part of the requirements to be a cheerleading coach at Alden. Before taking the class, she told her co-workers at the restaurant why she needed the day off.
So in November, when Jerry Caine pulled his wife to her feet from a booth in the back of the Olive Tree, other servers yelled for Kelm, who was making coffee. Meanwhile, Jerry Caine began striking his wife’s back with the heel of his hand. He wasn’t trained in CPR or the Heimlich maneuver, but was ready to attempt the maneuver if nobody else stepped up. Then, he says, someone did.
“I heard someone say, ‘Get Alyse! She just had the training!’ ” Moments later, Kelm was at his side.
“All I did was look in her eyes and I saw total fear,” Kelm recalled of rushing to the scene. “I knew she needed [the Heimlich maneuver]. I went behind her and started doing it.”
Kelm alternated four strong abdominal thrusts, made with a balled-up fist enclosed by the other hand just above the navel, with four sharp blows between the shoulder blades. Finally, on her fourth round of thrusts and back blows, the piece of steak popped out of Caine’s mouth.
Her training “just kind of took over," Kelm said. “I knew what to do, and I did it.”
Caine has vivid memories of her thoughts in the frightening moments after the steak cut off her airway.
“As I was bent over, I was hoping that somebody could come and help me,” she said. “They were talking about calling 911, but I knew I wouldn’t last that long.”
On Saturday, the Caines were back in the same booth they occupied two weeks ago, but this time they chatted with Kelm’s parents, Cathy and Jeff Plewinski, her sisters, Christie and Laurie, cousin Tracy Szefler, and Kelm’s husband, Mike.
“I am so proud of her,” said Cathy Plewinski, who is a nurse. “When she needed to act, she just stepped up.”
Caine, a deeply religious woman who thanked God for putting Kelm in the right place to help her, recovered quickly from the frightening incident, she said. She finished her breakfast, “and then I went shopping.”