EASTHAMPTON-Gus Ramirez was eating a tangerine and chatting with two residents in the small living room of Mount Tom House run by ServiceNet on East Street one day last month when the conversation took a near deadly turn.

A wedge from the fruit had gotten caught in his throat and jammed above his windpipe. Within seconds, Ramirez, the home’s program director, could not breathe or swallow. He began shuddering with fear.

“I went into shock and I stood up pointing to my neck,” Ramirez, 63, recalled during an interview at the residential home that serves five men with developmental disabilities.

Daniel Clifford, 47, was seated next to Ramirez and saw that he was choking. He knew what to do, having been trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid many years earlier.

“He saw me signaling,” Ramirez said. “He knew what to do immediately. It was instinct for him. For him it was seconds — for me, it was hours.”

Ramirez recalled Clifford standing up behind him, wrapping his arms around his stomach area and performing the Heimlich maneuver. In seconds, the tangerine wedge and saliva popped out of Ramirez’s mouth and down onto a coffee table and floor.

A staff member who had been cooking in the kitchen ran into the living room in response to the commotion and was reassured by Ramirez that everyone was OK.

In an interview outside the Mount Tom house last week, Clifford said he had never had to use his CPR and first aid training and did not panic when Ramirez began choking during the September incident.

“I kept a calm body and had to react,” Clifford said.

He said he immediately recognized Ramirez making the universal sign for choking.

“When I was in high school, I used a lot of sign language,” Clifford said. “I know a lot of people who can’t hear or talk to people.”

Clifford said that while it’s been a well over a decade since he first received CPR and first aid training, he plans to get a refresher course through ServiceNet, the Northampton-based mental health and human services agency that provides such training to its staff and clients. Clifford works at the agency’s Prospect Meadow Farm in Hatfield.

“They even teach you how you can do it for yourself,” Clifford said of the life-saving techniques.

Ramirez, who has worked at Mount Tom house for the past six months, said he had no idea Clifford knew how to help a choking victim. He said the incident was traumatic.

“It brings a shock to your system,” Ramirez said. “It’s scary. It takes you awhile to recover from the adrenaline rush.”

He said he is deeply grateful to Clifford for saving his life.

“I was profound that a client would come to save my life,” Ramirez said. “That is a really big thing for that to happen. I think it should not go unrecognized.”

Clifford’s actions were recently recognized in ServiceNet’s newsletter, where Ramirez recounted what happened and expressed his gratitude.

“I am indebted to him and he will always be part of me,” Ramirez said for the newsletter. “We work daily to provide and enrich life for our clients and forget how they enrich our lives by ways we could never imagine.”

Said ServiceNet’s CEO Susan Stubbs: “It was an amazing story.”



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