Dylan Gibbs tells us, “How Boy Scouts Saved My Life”

By Dylan Zane Glenwood Gibbs Age 11 (With a little help from my mom, journalist Hope Katz Gibbs)

September 1, 2010: This summer, I learned some big lessons about the perils of catching grapes in my mouth, the importance of knowing first aid, and what an amazing dad I have.

It happened in August when my dad and I went on a biking and camping trip with two of my best friends and their fathers. Our mission was to bike at least 25 miles along the C&O Canal towpath, camp overnight, and bike back the next day as part of our Boy Scout cycling merit badge.

We left on a Saturday morning and had a great time biking along and then stopping to look at the algae growing in the canal, eating lunch under the giant trees, spotting birds and turtles, and skipping rocks.

After a long day of cycling, we set up our campsite for the night. When the dads started cooking dinner, I decided to snack on some grapes. I ate them my favorite way by throwing the grape as high in the air as I can and catching it in my mouth.

When my dad saw that I was throwing them about 30 feet high, he told me to cut it out. “You could choke, Dyl. Please stop.”

Not five minutes later, I knew exactly what he was talking about. I tossed a grape so high that it nearly reached the branches on the highest tree, and when it came down, it lodged right in my throat.

Luckily, earlier that summer, I had gotten my First Aid merit badge, so I knew what I had to do.

Although it was hard to breathe, I ran over to my dad with my hands up to my neck, which is the international sign for choking. He knew what had happened. (Of course, he told me later, the fact that my face was turning a terrible shade of purple was another clue.)

He immediately threw me over his knee and began pounding on my back — just like he did when I choked on a Cheerio when I was a baby. It didn’t work, though, and I was getting scared. That’s when I clasped my hands out in front of me, telling him to do the Heimlich maneuver.

He must have known what I was trying to say because he immediately stood behind me and clasped his hands under my diaphragm. It was a little too high up on my belly, though, so I moved them down to the spot my Scout Master had shown me. My dad pushed in and up, but after two thrusts, nothing came out.

I felt him take a deep breath because it wasn’t working. He clenched his fist and pushed on my stomach again, and finally, the grape flew out.

As soon as it landed on the ground, I dropped to my knees and sat there, shaking.

My dad sat down and put his arm around me and asked if I was OK. Other than that, we didn’t talk or move for a really long time.

It hurt to eat the Sloppy Joes he made us, especially the bun. I just wanted to get to bed and forget the whole thing. That didn’t work out because my friends wanted to keep playing. It took my mind off things, which was good.

We didn’t tell my mom until the morning after we got home. She’s still pretty freaked out about it, and to be honest, so am I. She’s a journalist, and that’s why she thought we should write this article together. She says that if you can talk about something that scares you, get it out of your head, and put it into words, that it makes you feel better. She says that’s what writers do, and I guess it has helped.

I don’t think I’ll ever eat a grape again, and I’m not so sure grape juice is a good idea, either. Other tiny foods that can get lodged in my throat make me a little nervous now, too. So in the meantime, I’m taking a break from popcorn, baby carrots, and hard candy. I can’t keep away from hotdogs, which are supposed to be another choking hazard. But I am chewing them very well.

I most definitely won’t throw anything tiny up in the air and catch it in my mouth again. And if I ever see any of my friends doing it, I’m going to tell them this story. I don’t want this to ever happen to anyone else.

As for my dad

My dad is Michael Gibbs—a really amazing illustrator and my best friend. He’s one of those guys who does not talk too much about what’s bothering him (which is the opposite of my mom), but he is a man of action.

The day we got back from the biking trip, he decided to sign up to learn how to be an EMT. (That’s an Emergency Medical Technician, which is one of those guys who comes to your house in an ambulance when there’s an emergency.)

His first-class was last night, and I’m so proud of him. I know he wants to protect the other kids in my troop and me. I think that is incredibly cool. I hope he teaches me what he learns.

I’m only 11, and I don’t like to think about what might have happened if my dad hadn’t been there or if I hadn’t taken that First Aid course through the Scouts. I’m just glad that it all worked out. I hope every kid has the opportunity to learn First Aid, especially CPR and the Heimlich maneuver. It just may save your life.

About Dylan Gibbs

Sixth-grader Dylan Gibbs has been a Scout since 3rd grade. He loves to go on camping trips, earn merit badges, and attend meetings. He also loves to play basketball, chess, rides his bike and beat his sister at card games. His favorite subjects in school are math, science, and social studies. He enters middle school this month. His parents love him very much.