Waiter saves choking customer

UPPER MERION — How much do you tip on a thing like this?

Waiter Charles Robinson raised the meaning of good table service to an unforeseen level when he jumped in at a critical moment and saved the life of an 84-year-old World War II veteran on Father’s Day.

Robinson, who’s been waiting tables at Lone Star Steakhouse Saloon on South Gulph Road, King of Prussia, for the last eight months, had never performed the Heimlich maneuver before.

All he knew was what he’d seen on the TV series “House.”

But his quick intervention was enough to dislodge a chunk of meat from the throat of a diner choking on his steak.

“I was actually supposed to go home for the night, but it got a little busy on Father’s Day,” Robinson recalled at the restaurant on Friday afternoon.

“I was waiting on this man and his family, and about 45 minutes into their dinner, he started choking. When I got to the table he was slumped over. I would have felt bad just standing there, so I took the initiative. It was very shocking to watch it. I guess I don’t have a panic bone; I just knew I had to do something for him. ”

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A CPR class he’d taken at Pottstown High School hadn’t really prepared him for a scenario like this.

As he was holding the victim up and attempting to force out the food from his throat, Robinson quickly found himself being assisted by Jamel Williams, who works in the kitchen.

“The man was getting heavy and it was hard for Charles to keep holding him up, so I stepped in to help,” said Williams, who remembered learning the Heimlich maneuver as a Boy Scout. “That was a long time ago and I don’t remember it that much. I’m just glad the man is all right, but I don’t know why someone didn’t cut up his meat for him.”

By the time Upper Merion Police and Lafayette Ambulance arrived, enough of the blockage had been removed to allow the victim to breathe.

“I’d never seen anyone that blue before in my life,” Robinson said.

Customers were all springing up out of their seats to help in any way they could, Williams noted.

“Everybody tried to give helpful advice and do what they could. When the paramedics got here, they laid him on the floor, sideways and about a minute later he was coming out on the stretcher, and his eyes were open.”

Bartender Monica Cocci happened to be waiting tables that night to help out on the busy holiday weekend.

“This is unbelievable, but when the ambulance pulled up, they were pulling the gurney out, and we were holding the front door open. So there’s the ambulance with lights flashing, and a car pulled up behind him and lays on the horn because the ambulance was in his way. The paramedic looked at him and said, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding.’”

“Some people just have no compassion,” said a customer seated at the bar. “But you people do care … and you guys saved a man’s life, which is huge,” he added, turning to Robinson and Williams.

The Father’s Day incident is not the first medical emergency that longtime Lone Star employee Cocci has witnessed at the restaurant.

“Two people died in the restaurant and one died in the driveway,” she recalled. “It was in ’97 or ’98, and a man had a heart attack as he was driving by and he pulled over on the side of the road in front of here.

“This is probably the third choking that I recall,” Cocci added.

“The last one was two or three years ago, when one of the kids pulled a chunk of steak out of the gentleman’s throat. He got an actual commendation for that.”

The family of the man rescued by Robinson could not be reached for comment.

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