- Associated Press - Friday, May 8, 2015

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Ten-year-old Mills Prater could barely articulate the words as she gasped for breath: “I’m choking.”

Inside the Cherokee Bend Elementary School cafeteria Tuesday, her friend and fourth grade classmate Rosemary Cabaniss heard the muffled words and immediately ran to tell their teacher Shelley Hunt.

“As soon as Rosemary told me what was happening, I jumped up and got to Mills as quickly as I could,” Hunt said. “It took only just a moment for me to realize what was going on when I saw how red her face was.”

Hunt took the girl to the school nurse’s office, which is just across the hallway from the cafeteria. But the office door was locked, and the nurse was tending to an injured child outside on the playground.

Hunt said she then began screaming, “Nurse, nurse!” over and over again. The yelling prompted several teachers to stick their heads into the hallway to see what was going on - something Hunt said ultimately helped give her the confidence and poise to perform her first ever Heimlich maneuver on the student.

“I just reacted and did what I thought was best,” Hunt said. “I haven’t been trained to do the Heimlich, but I just reacted. I gave three (abdominal thrusts), and she spit out the food and she could breathe again.”

The culprit, Prater said, was a clump of dry cereal that got stuck in her throat. Hunt said as soon as the child could breathe again, she vomited and became extremely upset.

“I was just terrified, but then so relieved,” Prater said. “I was scared, and I started crying.”

Hunt said that in that moment, she knew her duties were not yet complete.

“I just hugged her and told her that she was OK, that it was all going to be OK,” Hunt said. “She was upset, and I did what I could to calm her down.”

The school nurse brought Prater into her office and gave her water and a change of clothes. The student’s twin sister Ally Prater, who witnessed Mills choking in the lunchroom, came in to check on her.

“(Ally) was upset and crying, and I just let her know I was OK,” Mills Prater said.

A few minutes later, the nurse and Mills called her mother Candy Prater, who was “beyond relieved” to hear that her daughter was OK.

“I’m just so thankful to Ms. Hunt and Rosemary and everyone else who helped,” Candy said. “More often than not, stuff like this goes unnoticed, and I wanted to make sure everyone, especially Ms. Hunt and Rosemary, got the recognition they deserve.”

The mother posted a condensed version of the story on the “What’s Happening in Mountain Brook” Facebook page Tuesday night and called Cabaniss and Hunt heroes. In 24 hours, the post received 965 likes.

But Hunt - who said she does not want anyone to consider her a hero - said she could not have done it without the support of her fellow teachers, and she simply did what any teacher would have done in the situation.

“Doing stuff like this is just part of being a teacher,” Hunt said. “So many teachers do these kinds of things every time we step into the building. It’s what we do. I’m just glad she’s OK.”

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