Some quick thinking by a Middlesex teacher on cafeteria duty averted tragedy when Trish Valentine used the Heimlich maneuver to save seventh-grader Henry Piedra from choking back in May.

Piedra coked on a cheese-filled breadstick during lunch and spotted Valentine, his math teacher, indicating with his hands that he was choking.“I turned around and he was bright red,” Valentine recalled in May. “I looked at him, like, ‘You OK?’ He pointed to this throat. He wasn’t coughing or trying to get it up on his own. He couldn’t get air.”

With school nurses on their way, Valentine was able to dislodge the food with the maneuver after 10 thrusts.

Henry, who is in seventh grade, said it felt like that chunk of food was stuck in his throat “for a long time.” From now on, he said he plans on chewing carefully and abstaining from talking as much as possible.

Valentine noted that lunch is a time when students socialize, so it’s difficult to encourage them to not combine talking and chewing simultaneously. She advised students to take small bites and chew carefully.

Debi Boccanfuso, Middlesex principal, told the Darien Times in May that Valentine “did a great job at keeping confident in the moment.”

“She should be commended,” Boccanfuso wrote in an email then. “Part of the reason we have teachers in the cafeteria is to be there should anyone student need anything and for the teachers to make sure everyone is doing all right. The student approached her, in distress, and she did the right thing. Very proud of her!”

Choking and suffocation is the third leading cause of home and community death in the United States, according to the National Safety Council. Children under 3 and the elderly are most at risk of choking, with food being the primary cause in most adult cases. People are advised to call 911 immediately if someone appears to be choking.

Henry’s mother, Alison, said her son was lucky to have someone like Valentine around to help him.

“She saved his life and is a true heroine,” Alison stated in an email to The Darien Times in May. “Middlesex… has an excellent reputation for its education. But it also has teachers like Trish Valentine that go beyond the call of duty and think and act quickly to ensure the safety of all the children.

“Our experience could have been totally different if it weren’t for Trish Valentine,” Alison continued.

Henry and his mom brought Valentine flowers to thank her for saving Henry. It was Valentine’s first time ever using the maneuver she learned so long ago. Hopefully it will be her last, she said.

For Henry, he doubts he’ll find cheese-filled breadsticks on his plate ever again.