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Baby sitter Norma Dempsey of Trinity with 3-year-old Jacob Ratliff of Decatur after Friday's scare at the Wal-Mart Supercenter. Jacob nearly choked to death on a Life Saver, but Wal-Mart employees came to his rescue, one of them successfully applying the Heimlich maneuver on the choking boy.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Baby sitter Norma Dempsey of Trinity with 3-year-old Jacob Ratliff of Decatur after Friday's scare at the Wal-Mart Supercenter. Jacob nearly choked to death on a Life Saver, but Wal-Mart employees came to his rescue, one of them successfully applying the Heimlich maneuver on the choking boy.

Thank God and Wal-Mart he's
alive

Supercenter employees
save choking boy

By Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com · 340-2438

Norma Dempsey of Trinity said she thanks God and Wal-Mart Supercenter employees for saving 3-year-old Jacob Ratliff of Decatur from choking to death.

They were shopping in the Decatur store Friday.

Dempsey, who has baby-sat Jacob since he was 9 days old, said he got a Life Saver from her purse and it apparently caught in his throat.

“He was in the buggy and he was talking about the Winnie the Pooh bedcovers,” Dempsey said. “He said, ‘Norma, I want Pooh sheets,’ and I stopped to look at them. He said he wanted a piece of candy and reached into my open purse and took out the Life Saver. He has eaten hard candy before, and I didn’t think much about it.”

She said suddenly Jacob was climbing her arm, and when she turned, “he looked at me and started reaching up for me like he was drowning. He’s like my own, and I began freaking out. I jerked him out of the buggy and started trying to do the Heimlich maneuver. Although I’ve had CPR training for infants and adults, I guess I panicked. I couldn’t get (the Life Saver) out.”

Dempsey said she began crying and asked a customer nearby to help her.

“She turned and walked away,” Dempsey said. “She probably thought, ‘I’m not going to be a part of a kid dying
today.’ So I started screaming at the top of my lungs, ‘God, somebody please help me!’ ”

Employee Sheila Miller, who works in crafts, had an armload of returns she was taking to the men’s clothing department.

“She dropped the clothes, grabbed Jacob out of my arms and began doing the Heimlich,” Dempsey said. “The Lifesaver still wasn’t coming up and Jacob was turning cotton white. (Miller) began screaming for help when another employee came up and asked, ‘What’s wrong?’ ”

That second employee used her walkie-talkie and said, ‘911 emergency in the domestics department.’ And then about 20 employees were there.’ ”

A Wal-Mart assembler, Charles Maples, who also is an emergency medical technician with the Hillsboro Area Volunteer Fire Department, took Jacob. He applied the Heimlich and Jacob began throwing up. Deanna Woodall, domestics department manager, worked to keep him calm.

“Within seconds, he started breathing again and his color started coming back,” Dempsey said. “(Maples) said that Jacob should drink something and another employee brought him a Mountain Dew.”

Jacob’s mother, LaGretta Ratliff, community services director for the state Department of Mental Health and Retardation, said she thanks “all of the people who came to his rescue. ... I know that was scary for Norma and I told her not to worry. I pray a hedge of protection around my family each and every day.

“So I don’t spend every day worried about what if, what if. I know they’re going to be safe. I believe that. When they’re with me or away from me, God’s hedge of protection is around them.”

Ratliff, a single mother, has two other adopted children, Chase, 9, and a daughter, Taylor, 7. In 2003, Ratliff was named an “Angel in Adoption” by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Her two older children attend Julian Harris Elementary School. When they were younger, Dempsey also baby-sat them.

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