It doesn't do much good if you are available to help, but don't know how to help.

So Haverhill students and their parents can be thankful that local school staff are both available and able, if a child is choking.

Twice in the past six months, school employees have used the Heimlich maneuver to assist a student who was choking. In the most recent case, Whittier Middle School senior custodian Thomas Geary quickly responded last Thursday when Jackson Wezesa, 11, started having trouble breathing while he was eating in the school cafeteria.

Jackson was able to tell his friend, Jack Bowe, that he was choking. Jack told the lunch monitor, who called for help, and Geary was there momentarily.

Geary, a 2000 Haverhill High School graduate who has worked for the School Department for eight years, said he had learned the Heimlich maneuver in a first aid course he took about a year ago, and knew exactly what to do. He formed a ball with both of his hands, placed them on Jackson's abdomen and made a sharp, upward thrust. It hurt a bit, Jackson admitted, but he was fine — and relieved — to be breathing easily moments later.

Cynthia Costanzo, the kitchen manager at the Nettle Middle School, did the same thing last November to save a fifth-grader who was choking on a piece of cheese.

Both staff members deserve the thanks and praise they received from grateful families and the entire school community.

And their actions are yet another example of how such a simple procedure can transform a potential tragedy into a minor incident.

The Heimlich maneuver is simple to learn and has been proven effective time and again. Everybody should learn it.

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