Sarasota County School District gets 150 new devices that could help a choking child

Updated: Dec. 4, 2019 at 7:12 PM EST
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - The Sarasota County School District just received a donation of 150 LifeVacs - an apparatus used to help save someone who is choking.

The district is calling it another tool in their toolbox to address a nationwide issue. One child will die every five days from choking on food.

But staff said the Heimlich maneuver will still be their first response to help a student who is choking.

Doctors say anyone who sees someone choking should bend the person forward slightly, then put a fist in his or her upper abdomen. The other hand goes over the opposite wrist for support. Then, push backwards and upwards, as if trying to lift the person up.

Doctors say to do this 4 to 6 times, but if that doesn’t work, the district said the LifeVac is another resource that could be vital in the race against the clock when someone can’t breathe.

“Time is of the essence," said Dr. Michael Schandorf-Lartey, Chief Medical Officer at Doctor’s Hospital. "It doesn’t take much at all. People don’t know this.”

Say someone is in a restaurant and another patron starts choking.

“What that means is they’re not getting oxygen," Dr. Schandorf-Lartey said. "In 2-3 minutes they’re unconscious. In 4-6 minutes actually brain damage can occur.”

It happens more often than most may think, especially among children.

“We were approached by a parent at one of our elementary schools whose daughter had a choking incident and she wondered if we were familiar with the device and if we would be interested in obtaining them for the schools," said Suzanne Dubose, supervisor of health services for the Sarasota County School District.

LifeVac took it one step further, offering to donate 150 devices, which were just received about a week ago.

Dubose said before they start using them, they’ll meet in a couple of weeks to train with the nurses and student resource officers, but even then, the Heimlich maneuver will still be their first response.

“If student or staff becomes non-responsive, our response at that point is compression, CPR, per protocol and it’s evidence based," Dubose explained. "The LifeVac, if it’s brought into a situation, can absolutely be used because again, another tool in the tool box.”

The LifeVac is a portable suction device used to clear an upper airway obstruction. It has faced criticism in the past from doctors who said there isn’t enough research on if it could do more harm than good.

The Food and Drug Administration said it does not license these types of medical devices and "has not cleared or approved any oral/oropharyngeal devices as Heimlich assist devices. The FDA generally does not comment typically on products that have not been approved or cleared by the agency.

All medical device manufacturers must register and list with the FDA, which includes registering their manufacturing facilities and listing all medical devices. Registration and listing is a separate process from premarket review, which includes medical device approval or clearance. Registration and listing does not in any way denote approval of the establishment or its products by the FDA.

In addition to registration and listing and, as appropriate, premarket submission, medical device manufacturers must follow other regulations, such as labeling requirements, which include adequate directions for use."

“For the medical community to accept something, it has to be approved and scientifically reviewed and recommended," said Dr. Schandorf-Lartey who did not believe the LifeVac had been. "If such a device does exist, and is proven to be effective, absolutely. Then we would use that together with a Heimlich maneuver or the back thrust. Any procedure that is effective.”

The Sarasota Police Department started using LifeVac back in 2015.

To watch a 2016 ABC7 investigation after the Sarasota Police Department spent nearly $7,500 to purchase LifeVacs, click here.

For more information about this device, click here.

This article has been updated to include comments from the FDA and revise a prior version that stated “a device like this falls outside of the Food and Drug Administrations’ jurisdiction, so they don’t license it.” The FDA said it does not license any medical device like this one.

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