A weekend dinner turned into a near-death emergency for Michele Errico-until her daughter rescued her from choking, with help from a medical dispatcher.
Guided by cell-phone instructions from Rockland police and then an American Medical Response paramedic, Nicole Clary, 13, used the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge a piece of steak that had become stuck in Errico's airway Friday night.
By the time police and firefighters arrived at the family home, Errico was back on her feet and breathing.
Police Lt. Nicholas Zeoli said Nicole's quick 9-1-1 call and attention to the dispatcher's directions saved her mother's life.
"These things happen, but they're not very frequent," Zeoli said. "The girl did a good job."
The emergency came moments after the 43-year-old legal assistant sat down alone for a grilled-steak dinner in the kitchen.
Nicole, who's a vegetarian, was at the computer in another room. Errico's older daughter, Julianne, was out shopping. Her husband, Drew Errico, a disc jockey, was working at an event.
The trouble started at about 9:15 p.m. when Errico put part of the steak on the range for Julianne. Their 120-pound Great Dane-bloodhound Niko lunged for the meat. When Errico tried to stop him, she swallowed a piece of steak she'd just put in her mouth.
Unable to speak or gasp for breath, she pounded on the counter to get Nicole's attention. The girl rushed in, slapped her mom's back, then called 9-1-1.
The cell-phone call bounced from a State Police call center to Rockland police and then to American Medical Response, which handles emergency service in the town. (Cell-phone calls go to state police.)
When Nicole said she hadn't learned the Heimlich maneuver, the dispatcher told Nicole to put the phone on the speaker, then gave the girl step-by-step instructions.
Her effort didn't work the first time, or the second.
"Keep trying," the dispatcher told Nicole, and on the third try, Errico's airway cleared.
"I was thinking, I'm going to drop dead right here," Errico said.
"It was really scary," said Nicole, who'll be in the seventh grade at the Rogers Middle School this fall. "I wasn't thinking about anything. I was just focused on helping my mom."
The danger was over, but Errico's medical treatment wasn't.
The choking set off an asthma attack, so an ambulance took her to South Shore Hospital for overnight observation. While she was there, doctors discovered that Nicole's exertions had bruised several of her mom's ribs.
"That's OK," Errico said. "I'll take it."