Mother thinks anti-choking device should be required in schools after Virginia student's death

Karina Nolasco: 'I don't want anyone to go through what I've gone through'
Posted at 4:55 PM, Mar 12, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-13 11:43:14-04

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Nearly one month after their 13-year-old son, Josue, choked on his school lunch, dying three days later from the damage, the Nolasco family has one request for Virginia school leaders.

"For them to be equipped for every emergency," said Josue's mother, Karina Nolasco. "Truly. I don't want anyone to go through what I've gone through."

Josue Nolasco
Josue Nolasco

The family said multiple staff at Josue's school, Providence Middle, performed abdominal thrusts when they realized Josue was choking, and gave CPR when he became unconscious.

"In those situations, it would be advised to just look into the mouth to see if there's anything you can take out, then, depending on the age of the patient, if it's an infant, then give back thrusts, and if it's an older person, anybody more than two to three years old, do the abdominal thrusts or Heimlich maneuver," said Dr. Subodh Pandey, a pulmonologist with UVA Health.

Karina Nolasco
Karina Nolasco

The family says a piece of meat was lodged in their son's lung and trachea.

Dr. Pandey told CBS 6, unfortunately, foreign object asphyxiation is common.

According to 2020 data, roughly 5,000 people died from foreign object asphyxiation.

Dr. Subodh Pandey, a pulmonologist with UVA Health, and reporter Elizabeth Holmes
Dr. Subodh Pandey, a pulmonologist with UVA Health, and reporter Elizabeth Holmes

The family wonders if anything besides abdominal thrusts could be used to prevent another child from a similar fate.

A company, called "LifeVac," suggests its anti-choking device is a good backup.

"If you can't push it out, with the abdominal thrusts, you suck it out. So, it's a little plunger, you push it down, the air comes out to the side, so it won't push it further down, which would be bad," said CEO Aruthur Lih. "There's a little valve that locks and creates a suction."

The group is now offering to give every school in Virginia a free LifeVac device. There are already 33 schools in Virginia that have a device, and the group credits their product to saving at least one life in the Commonwealth.

While the company registered the product with the FDA, it is not approved by the FDA. No anti-choking device made in the U.S. has received that seal of approval.

In a 2020 study, researchers suggest there is "insufficient evidence to support or discourage their use."

LifeVac CEO Aruthur Lih
LifeVac CEO Aruthur Lih

Neither the American Red Cross, nor the American Heart Association list it as a tool to use in their choking response guidelines.

Still, Lih stands by having it in places like schools, just in case.

"We've pulled out probably over 200 different objects in the 751 lives we've saved. And it goes from a leaf in the yard, to candy and gum and food, and bottle caps," Lih said.

Any additional option, the Nolasco family said, is one they'll get behind.

"Not just for Chesterfield County, but for all schools," Nolasco said. "So this won't happen again."

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