Jackson Electric Membership Corporation system control coordinator Greg Mathis received a life-saving award from Georgia EMC during the state association’s annual meeting in Savannah this month.
Mathis was honored for saving the life of a fellow Jackson EMC employee.
Mathis, a 30-year Jackson EMC veteran, and his wife Traci were having dinner at the home of co-worker Tonya Sosebee, district communications coordinator, and her fiancé, Ray Klima, when Sosebee suddenly became quiet, stood up and slammed her palms on the table.
Klima recognized she was choking and started performing the Heimlich maneuver. Mathis noticed he might have been squeezing too high, possibly restricting Sosebee’s airflow rather than expelling the obstruction.
“Ray’s arms were mid rib cage,” recalled Sosebee. After two attempts, Ray screamed for help. Mathis jumped up, and his training from Jackson EMC’s CPR, AED, and First Aid safety class took over. He placed his right arm under her rib cage and with one thrust, the chicken piece dislodged from her throat.
“I couldn’t believe I was choking on a chicken piece the size of a pencil eraser,” said Sosebee.
Mathis’ wife, Traci, said the total amount of time that passed was about 12 seconds.
“Tonya said that was the second biggest breath she ever took,” Mathis said. “The first one was the day she was born.”
Sosebee credits Jackson EMC’s mandatory safety training with saving her life. “Training in CPR and life-saving measures, like the Heimlich maneuver, are just as important as training in line work,” said Steve Chambers, senior director of safety and job training at Jackson EMC.
Greg and Traci stayed for another hour after the incident, then started the 30-minute drive home. Nearing home, Mathis had to stop the car on the side of the road. “The adrenaline had worn off, and the realization of what happened finally hit me like a ton of bricks,” Mathis recalled. “I wondered what might have happened if we hadn’t gone over that night.”
Mathis has become adept at performing the Heimlich. Saving his co-worker marked the fourth time Mathis has performed the Heimlich: Once when his wife was choking on a tortilla chip and twice within a two-week span when his two-year-old niece was choking on mashed potatoes. In each instance, Mathis was able to react calmly and instinctually thanks to the CPR and lifesaving training each Jackson EMC employee receives.
“We are well-trained to the point where it becomes second nature,” Mathis says. “I just reacted, which is exactly what you’re supposed to do.”
Mathis was among 14 employees from five EMCs in Georgia who were recognized with a life-saving award, which recognizes EMC employees whose quick thinking and actions were instrumental in safeguarding others from dangerous or potentially deadly situations.