St. Petersburg College president Bill Law was having dinner with a few of the college trustees last week when he became an unexpected hero.
He was attending a national trustees convention in Washington, D.C., with SPC trustees Ken Burke, Robert Fine and Deveron Gibbons. They decided to go to Bobby Van's Steakhouse a couple of blocks from their hotel.
It happened to be Valentine's Day. And Law joked that he was sure they'd all rather spend the evening with somebody else.
When their meals arrived, Gibbons took a bite of his steak.
A piece of meat lodged in his throat. And he couldn't breathe.
Law, who was sitting across from Gibbons, saw Gibbons' hands clutch his throat and his eyes open wide.
"I could see he was in severe distress," Law said.
Burke said he's embarrassed to admit it now, but he and Fine didn't realize what was happening until they saw Law leap out of his chair, rush around the table and wrap his arms around Gibbons' waist.
Law performed three or four Heimlich thrusts. And Gibbons coughed up the food.
The others soon resumed eating their dinners.
Gibbons wasn't in the mood to eat, Burke said.
"It's the most scary moment I've ever had," Gibbons said Tuesday after the college's Board of Trustees meeting, where Fine shared the story with the audience.
"Not sure if everyone is aware," Fine said, "our president is a great first responder."
Fine said Law "sprang into action and saved Mr. Gibbons' life."
Law had never done the Heimlich maneuver before. He'd only read about it in health literature.
It's amazing how quickly a casual dinner became something else, Law said.
"One second everything is fine," he said. "The next second, you realize you've got something really serious on your hands."
Lorri Helfand can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4155. Go to tampabay.com/letters to write a letter to the editor.