OHATCHEE — Xenia Hyatt trained to be a lifeguard for the YMCA, so she was shocked when the first time she got to use that training was in her high school lunchroom.
Last Tuesday, a student started to choke on food in the dining hall at Ohatchee High School, and Hyatt, a 16-year-old junior and lifeguard at the Anniston YMCA, was there. According to Principal Bobby Tittle, she was on her feet and working to clear the obstruction in the student’s airway before most anyone had time to react. One use of the Heimlich maneuver later — a technique that pushes air from the lungs, hopefully expelling obstructions — and the student was breathing again.
“I didn’t think; I just saw his face turning red,” Hyatt recalled Monday, sitting in Tittle’s office. “I was just up out of my seat and ran over to him.”
Last year Hyatt took a 48-hour training course for lifeguard duty, earning a Red Cross certification in CPR, first aid and the use of electronic defibrillators. The time spent at the Anniston YMCA since then had been calm, she said, managing the swimming pool and teaching swim classes. The children she watches swim are even well-behaved, she said — nobody needs to be yelled at about running near the pool — so the choking incident was her first truly dangerous interaction.
“I wasn’t expecting any of that, so I went about my business afterward,” Hyatt said. “I was shaking until about sixth period.”
It’s difficult to imagine Hyatt shaken; she strides with confidence, and it’s clear she had no doubts about her ability to help her fellow student.
“I got it from my mama,” Hyatt said of her self-assurance. When her mother, Holly, found out what happened at school that day, “she said ‘That’s amazing, I’m so glad you were there,’ and gave me a giant bear hug when I told her.”
She said the last week has been full of pats on the back and thanks from others. The student she helped gave her a hug in their next physical education class, and Tittle stopped to congratulate Hyatt on putting her training to use soon after the incident.
“A lot of teenagers are so hesitant to jump out in front, to be that guy or girl who takes leadership in that situation,” Tittle said. “She didn’t think twice about it.”
Hyatt is also a member of the Calhoun County swim team, a team comprised of students from schools around the county that meets at the YMCA, and was last year’s champion female swimmer. She’d like to join the swim team at Auburn University some day, she said, and she wants to study marine biology when she’s there.
Until then, she’s going to stick with her lifeguarding gig. She’s always loved water, she explained.
“Lifeguarding is just one more way for me to be near a pool, even if I’m not swimming in it.”