Friend says Aspen undersheriff saved his life with heimlich
Glenwood Springs, CO
ASPEN, Colorado ” Saving lives is all in a day’s work for Pitkin County Undersheriff Joe DiSalvo.
When DiSalvo spotted his friend Cameron Leonard choking on a piece of steak at Cache Cache Bistro in Aspen recently, instinct and training kicked in.
“If Joe hadn’t have been there I’d be dead,” Leonard said later. “And I mean that because Joe is one of the few guys in town who’s big enough to get his arms around me.”
Leonard, a chef and limo driver in Aspen, is 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighs more than 300 pounds. DiSalvo is 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds.
DiSalvo made a joke and thought Leonard was laughing before he noticed that Leonard, who was sitting at the bar, had something coming out of his nose and looked peculiar.
“I knew immediately something was wrong,” DiSalvo said. “I could tell he was in distress.”
DiSalvo checked to see if Leonard could make any noise, a sign that no air is passing through the windpipe, then wrapped his arms around Leonard to clear his friend’s windpipe.
Leonard already had turned blue and was losing his vision when DiSalvo began performing the life-saving maneuver.
But it was more than a minute that DiSalvo worked on Leonard with no result, he said.
“He was getting worse,” DiSalvo said.
He could feel Leonard slumping in his seat at the bar and losing consciousness.
“I think he was going,” DiSalvo said. “It was a long time.”
“My vision was gone and I was going down,” Leonard said later.
DiSalvo was just about to push Leonard to the floor and pounce on him to clear his windpipe when the situation improved.
“I gave it one more gigantic tug and it seemed to dislodge the thing and he came around,” DiSalvo said.
“I had a nice stiff drink as soon as it popped loose,” Leonard said.
It’s not the first time he’s performed the Heimlich maneuver, DiSalvo said.
A few years ago, he saved his own mother from choking during a family meal at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs.
DiSalvo has also performed CPR some 12 times on victims with one save to his credit, he said.
Life-threatening incidents are also traumatic for the rescuer, DiSalvo said, and the responsibility or hindsight on a life-threatening situation can be overwhelming.
DiSalvo was reluctant to talk about the experience, saying it wasn’t anything that anyone else wouldn’t have done.
In fact, he’s kept it quiet for almost two weeks (the incident happened on the evening of March 14).
“Cameron owes me nothing except his friendship,” DiSalvo said. “He’s such a lovely guy, I’m glad it worked out for him … I’m glad I was there.”
“The guy’s a gem,” Leonard said of DiSalvo. “After it happened, I looked around the room and there’s no one in the room who could have helped me.”
“He’s got a lot of life to abuse yet before he checks out,” DiSalvo quipped of his friend.
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Colorado Parks and Wildlife is urging anglers to stay off the Roaring Fork River between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs during afternoons beginning Saturday.