TJ Johnson

When the Marion Patriot football team traveled to Benton Sept. 29, they didn’t come home with a victory, but a stranger’s life might have been saved, thanks to the quick action by a member of the Patriots’ coaching staff.

On their way to the game that Friday afternoon, the team stopped for a meal at Nick’s Bar-B-Que in Carlisle. Also in the restaurant that afternoon was Renée Lucy of Royal, Ark. Lucy was there for a late lunch with her sister and her husband. Lucy said she and her sister are both retired teachers, and the first thing they noticed was how well-mannered the Patriot football players were.

But then trouble hit.

“Suddenly, I experienced a terrible choking attack,” Lucy said. “I realized a piece of hamburger meat had ‘gone down the wrong way.’ My sister kept asking me if I was OK, and when I couldn’t answer, she grabbed me out of the booth and headed to a table of the Marion coaching staff. She tapped one of the men on the shoulder and said, ‘Can you do the Heimlich?’”

That member of the Marion coaching staff was T.J. Johnson. Johnson said he could immediately see that the woman was fighting for air right in the middle of the restaurant.

“At first, I was afraid,” Johnson said. “I have taken the first aid and safety classes for years now, and we only learn how to perform the maneuver by watching videos -- we don't physically do it. I think it's one of those things that we train to be prepared for these bad things, but we usually never use them.”

Seeing how dangerous the situation was, Johnson put his training into action. He said he performed the maneuver twice, and on the second attempt, it freed the object from her airway and Lucy was able to breathe and start talking again.

“It was definitely a very surreal experience,” Johnson said. “With all the different training we do to prepare for these types of situations, I have always wondered what it would actually be like and how I would respond if I were to really experience it. But I feel like I have always been good at slowing things down and responding when other people might panic or freeze.”

“I was very happy and grateful I was able to help her, because we get so carried away with our lives and jobs and everything going on, we really neglect some of life's important things,” he continued. “Being able to help someone and maybe possibly save her life was a great feeling. I was just happy I was there to help.”

As for Lucy, she said she has nothing but gratitude for Johnson’s quick thinking and astute reaction. She added that she had little doubt he would know what to do.

“As a retired teacher, I completely understood why my sister headed for the coaches in our emergency,” Lucy said. “They are trained to take care of their athletes and knew immediately what to do. He has my gratitude, and I hope he will be recognized for his quick action to help a complete stranger. It was my lucky day.”