Community leader describes choking, undergoing emergency tracheotomy

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - An emergency surgical procedure was performed at a Bakersfield restaurant when the Heimlich maneuver didn't work on a choking woman. The victim, a former local politician, said Thursday that the procedure saved her life.

Former Kern County supervisor Pauline Larwood said she still feels weak after almost choking to death Monday.

"I had food stuck in my throat, and I couldn't swallow," said Larwood from her hospital bed.

Lying in her bed at Mercy Memorial, Larwood described the emergency tracheotomy in a busy restaurant - having her throat was cut open Monday in an effort to save her life. Larwood asked not to be photographed during her recovery.

"I hope to get over this," said Larwood.

Eyewitness News spoke to Larwood before the incident Monday night while she attended the Valley Fever Symposium along with several of the nation's top doctors.

After the symposium, the group had dinner at The Mark Restaurant in downtown Bakersfield. Larwood was eating a steak dinner when she began to choke.

"I remember them trying to do the Heimlich, and it didn't work and then I passed out. And I didn't wake up until after the tracheotomy was done," said Larwood.

The Heimlich maneuver was performed on Larwood twice, but she lost consciousness. That's when Dr. Royce Johnson used a colleague's pocket knife to cut open her throat. He then inserted a pen to complete the life-saving tracheotomy.

"They were standing there holding something in my throat," Larwood said. "They used a pen for an air tube. Inside they took all the guts out of it."

Finding the right pen for the procedure proved tricky. An employee of The Mark, named J.R. Gonzalez, found the perfect tool.

"J.R., he's looking for a pen that'll work," described Bo Fernandez, restaurant general manager and executive chef. "These new pens, they're all fancy. So, finally, they find an old pen, they took the ink out, put it in there and gave her the mouth to mouth, CPR, that way."

Larwood said she won't let this traumatic experience hinder her everyday life.

"You can't be afraid all the time. So, I'll be more cautious about what I eat," she said.

She's grateful for the doctor, who she hails as the hero who saved her life.

"Oh, I feel very lucky," Larwood said. "Dr. Royce Johnson, he's my hero now. Absolutely he saved my life. I was blue, they told me."

Larwood said she had polio as a child, which has since made swallowing very difficult for her.

As of Thursday, she did not have a release date from the hospital, but remained in good spirits and is looking forward to a smooth recovery.