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Choking Toddler Recovers after 'Scary' Incident that Damaged His Brain

BELEN, N.M. -- Two-year-old Glenn Contreras-Mares rested comfortably in the arms of a Belen firefighter on a recent night at the local fire station.

Six weeks earlier, the scene was much different when the little boy was rushed to an awaiting ambulance after he had a piece of sausage lodged in his throat.

The boy was eating dinner with his mother, Elizabeth Mares, and grandmother, Jeana Lucero, when he began choking.

"He went limp," Lucero said. "He was blue from head to toe. All I could think was, 'Oh my God, oh my God, please don't die.' But he pretty much already was -- he was dying."

According to medical records, the boy was having a cardiac arrest and unable to cough up the piece of food as emergency crews arrived on scene.

Belen Fire Capt. Joe Saiz and emergency medical technician Chris Martinez were the first responders and decided to take him to meet the ambulance to save valuable time.

"We needed to get where we were going," Saiz said. "He was limp. We just started doing what we are trained to do."

Saiz said part of that training involved getting to the home in under three minutes and performing CPR on the boy until paramedics could work on getting the food dislodged.

Living Cross Ambulance paramedic Kevin Druce said the food was lodged underneath the boy's vocal cords, and just when it appeared the food was coming free, the 2-year-old would try to take a breath and the sausage would go back under his vocal cords.

The boy has enlarged tonsils that make his airway abnormally small, his grandmother said.

Druce said paramedics used a tool that could move the vocal cords and were able to remove the piece of food on their second attempt.

"It took us about 40 seconds to a minute, once we got started," Druce said.

The team was able to get a pulse while traveling along Interstate 25 to Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque.

Glenn spent six days in the hospital and contracted pneumonia and strep throat while he was trying to recover.

Doctors found he had brain damage in the lower part of his cerebellum that initially affected his motor skills.

"It was scary," Lucero said.

The toddler was signed up for physical therapy three weeks after the incident, but constant help from his family has apparently paid off.

"Last week, they called and said they couldn't put him into their physical therapy because he was too intelligent," Lucero said. "We had already rehabilitated him to the point that he was where he was (mentally) before the accident happened.

"We read to him, we taught him how to walk and talk all over again," she said.

Lucero and Mares recently took the boy to meet his rescuers at the Belen Fire Department to the surprise of the emergency crew who saved his life. The family thanked the emergency medical personnel with gifts.

Now, Glenn is able to talk, play and do other things like any other 2-year-old boy.

"It's a blessing," Mares said. "It gives me a different outlook on life."



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