Jax Beach lifeguards help save choking woman at Mojo Kitchen

Kaitlin Whited, fellow lifeguards at birthday dinner when woman begins choking

By Crystal Chen - Assignment editor/reporter

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. - A lifeguard’s job of saving lives is done both in and out of the water, and Jacksonville Beach lifeguards happened to be in the right place at the right time Friday night when a woman almost choked to death. 

Jacksonville Beach lifeguard, Kaitlin Whited, was celebrating her 24th birthday Friday evening at Mojo Kitchen on Beach Boulevard with a group of lifeguards when the night took a scary turn because of something as small as a raspberry.

"It seemed like a family (dinner) that just went terribly wrong," Whited told News4Jax on Monday.

During Whited's birthday dinner, a 53-year-old woman began choking on her dessert and the lifeguards' training, quick thinking and fast action took over without a second to spare.

"We saw him spring outside and all of us followed," Elise Byrd recounted. 

They followed Bill Horn, a nurse practitioner and senior lifeguard, as he rushed into action.

"He had her hand on her back and he was just balancing her so that if she did cough it up, it would land on the floor and not end up going back in her throat," Byrd said. 

In an ideal situation, Whited said, abdominal thrusts and back blows are performed until the person coughs up whatever is blocking their airway. But in Friday's case, that never happened. 

"It went from bad to worse when she went unresponsive and started having seizures," Whited said. 

As the seizures gave way to convulsions and wheezing, White, Byrd and Horn managed to help calm the crowd and monitor the woman until paramedics arrived.

"There were some people freaking out. People started to crowd, and that's when we were keeping people back and giving them space to work," Byrd said. 

The woman was transported to the hospital, and thanks to the lifeguards being in the right place and the right time, she is expected to be OK.

"It's just nuts. We have a saying here, 'Regardless of time or place.' It just happened to be that night. We were there and doing our jobs off the clock," Whited said. "It was definitely a good birthday gift to save a life." 

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