Malachi Franz was choking.

The seventh-grader had been eating Smarties candies at the end of his lunch period earlier this month when someone jostled his back, and one of the disk-shaped sweets got lodged in his throat.

"I was feeling scared," Malachi said, "like someone's got to do the Heimlich or I'm going to pass out and die right now."

Aaron Magness, sitting next to him, saw his friend raise his hands to his throat and his face turn red and then blue.

Some of the kids at the table didn't know what was going on, but Aaron did. He also knew what to do.

"I got up behind him and put my hand in my fist," Aaron said, pantomiming the Heimlich maneuver he performed three times.

Malachi recalled feeling Aaron's fists compressing his abdomen.

"I was thinking, I hope something comes out," he said.

Sure enough, the candy popped out, and Malachi was able to breathe.

Now he credits Aaron with saving his life.

Both boys learned to do the maneuver last spring in their sixth-grade health class at Jackson Middle School in Champlin, as part of a larger unit on first aid. In fact, once it was clear that Malachi was breathing again, Aaron pumped his fist and shouted to the cafeteria, "Go, health class!"

Their teacher, Ann Stalboerger, has taught the unit for the past seven years. About half the middle schools in the district provide that unit, she said. But district officials don't know of another time that a student had to apply those skills in a crisis.

"We were excited and so glad Aaron knew what to do," she said.

It turns out, she noted, both boys benefited from the lesson. Malachi's use of the universal choking signal was part of the lesson, too, and Aaron remembered how to respond when he saw it.

Still, both boys were so low-key about the episode that school officials had to track them down after lunch to make sure Malachi truly was OK and to give Aaron a well-deserved pat on the back.

At home, Malachi said his family was relieved, and Aaron said his mom was surprised.

"She didn't think I knew it because she didn't know it," he said. "She was happy and she was proud. She called everyone she knew."

The boys have been friends since last year. Are they better friends now?

They looked at each other, smiled and responded in unison:


Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409