Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Texas, jumped into action during a flight home to Texas on Friday night to help a young boy next to him who was choking on a chicken nugget.
“I had my headphones on and was listening to some news articles,” Gallego told CQ Roll Call during a phone interview Monday, when he heard a commotion next to him.
Beside the freshman congressman was a 3-year-old boy and the boy's mother, who was also holding a baby. The woman stood up and started shouting, “Oh my God, my son is choking! He’s choking!”
“I turned around quickly and I had to unbuckle his seat belt,” said Gallego. He then put one hand on the child’s back and one on the child’s sternum, and gently pushed forward. “As I did that he turned around to look at me and I ended up with chicken nuggets on my chest,” but the child was alright.
@RepPeteGallego @petegallego saved my son last night as he was choking on our flight home! So thankful for his quick reaction!
— Paige Hoch Flippen (@pflippen) July 26, 2014
The people across the aisle gave Gallego some towelettes, and the man next to him asked if he was a doctor. Gallego said, “I laughed and said, 'No, I’m not a doctor. I’m just a dad.'”
Gallego's own son Nicolas, 9, choked on a piece of bacon a few years ago and “because of that prior experience I was able to know what to do.”
Gallego had also witnessed a fellow lawmaker assist a passenger during an in-flight medical emergency. He was on a flight last October when Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., a former emergency room doctor, assisted a passenger who had collapsed. (Ruiz assisted a passenger who was having a seizure in a flight home earlier this month too.)
“What are the odds?” Gallego asked, noting that it was a strange coincidence that he now found himself helping a fellow passenger. After the boy stopped choking, Gallego thought back to when Ruiz was called into action during their flight.
“Even by watching Raul and others, you don’t panic. I’m not good at panicking. I just stay calm and do what I need to do,” he said.
It turned out that Gallego also knew the young boy’s father. They grew up in neighboring small towns in Texas, where everyone knows each other. “You all either play against them in sports or you run into each other in the grocery store,” he said.
“I was just glad to be able to be of help,” said Gallego. “Like I say, it’s every parent’s worst nightmare that something like that happens.”