Paramedics become heroes of Champ's tale


 
 

Kristen Kridel | | Tuesday, July 10, 2007


When the Labrador mix arrived at a Chicago Fire Department station unable to breathe, the two paramedics didn't know what was wrong with it. After all, their job is to save humans, and they had never worked on a dog.



But that didn't stop Mike Nowacki and Julie Staatz from saving Champ, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection K-9 officer for more than seven years.



"We were so beside ourselves to get this dog not to die," Staatz said. "I'm so thankful to see him running around."

Nowacki and Staatz received unit performance awards Monday for their quick thinking on June 15, the day they pulled several cicadas from the dog's throat.



"This was an unusual and unorthodox circumstance, and they kept cool heads," Assistant Deputy Chief Paramedic Jodi Warrick said.



U.S. Customs and Borders Protection K-9 Officer Marvin Slocum, Champ's partner, said he noticed something was wrong when Champ started choking and pawing at his mouth. Slocum has worked three years with the dog, which sniffs out narcotics in cargo and in aircraft at O'Hare International Airport. Champ's last big bust was uncovering 700 pounds of cocaine hidden on a flight from Mexico.



Trying to save his partner, Slocum flipped 8-year-old Champ over and performed the Heimlich maneuver as if the dog were an infant, he said.



When that didn't work, he tried the Heimlich maneuver used on adults. It failed as well.

"I stuck my hand down his throat," Slocum said. "We were running out of alternatives."



Champ's tongue was blue and the whites of his eyes had changed colors by the time Slocum brought him to O'Hare's rescue station, said Nowacki, the paramedic in charge.



The paramedics tried to insert a tube into Champ's throat but the dog kept biting it, Staatz said. So she handed Nowacki a pair of forceps, which he used to remove the blockage -- a glob of mucus and bugs.



"We just kept pulling out pieces," Staatz said. "One cicada came out and another. Another came out. They were big."

Finally, the paramedics were able to insert the tube. "He started to pink up a little bit," Staatz said.

Champ was then taken to an animal hospital.



On Monday, the dog still showed signs of his close call. The fur where his legs had been shaved to insert IVs had not grown back.



"I still can't fathom it," Slocum said. "But everything worked out for the best.

"He's a lot closer to me. I'm a lot closer to him."



Tongue hanging out, Champ sat Monday in a grassy spot outside O'Hare's Rescue Station 3.



Every chance he got, he put his head down and pulled blades of grass into his mouth. Perhaps he was seeking more cicadas.




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