MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — When 11-year-old Trace Adams raised his hands to his throat during the watermelon-eating contest at the Berkeley County Youth Fair and signaled he was choking, paramedic Adam Hess wasted no time coming to the boy’s aid.
After applying the Heimlich maneuver a few times and giving Trace a good smack on the back, Hess was able to free the obstruction from the boy’s throat and the young 4-Her spit out the chunk of melon that had become lodged in his airway.
“I got really scared. I put my hands over my throat, because I knew that was what you were supposed to do and then the paramedic just jumped over the fence and tried to help me,” Trace said of the incident, which took place Thursday. “I was very scared, because I thought I wouldn’t make it, I started to feel like I couldn’t breathe and I started to feel a little bit light-headed.”
Both Trace and his mother, Heather, thanked Hess, who has been an emergency medical technician for the past seven years and a paramedic for the past three, for helping him stop choking.
After being taken to an ambulance to be checked out, Trace returned to claim his third-place victory in the contest.
Hess works part-time for Martinsburg’s Ryneal Medical Transport, which staffs medics at the fair, and is a career medic with the Jefferson County Emergency Services Agency. Hess and other medics were standing by during the watermelon-eating contest at the fair when he said he saw Adams stand up, clutch his throat and make the universal sign that he was choking.
“I saw one of the fair members look at him,” Hess said. “She had a look of horror on her face, so I immediately jumped the fence and checked on him and immediately asked him ‘are you choking?'”
After Trace nodded his head yes, Hess performed the Heimlich maneuver several times, trying to dislodge the piece of watermelon stuck in the boy’s throat. He then bent Adams over, smacked him on the back and was able to get him to cough the object out.
“It felt like I was doing the Heimlich maneuver forever,” Hess said. “It felt like a minute, but I’m pretty sure it was only a few seconds.”
Hess said he was just doing his job and credits his boss at Ryneal Medical Transport, Mary Helmick, for making sure fairgoers are safe by having her staff work there every year.
“She gets no reimbursement for having people out there. She pays her employees. We’re all paid to be there, but she gets no compensation,” Hess said. “She goes through a lot of money to have those ambulances there to keep everyone safe. She’s a true hero.”
The choking victim’s mother says she can’t say enough about the medics and EMTs who were at the fair, especially Hess for helping her son.
“I actually saw him (the next day) as we were loading our stuff up at the horse barn, and I gave him a big hug,” Heather Adams said. “I told him that I appreciated everything that he did to help out my son, and he’s my hero.”