LEWISTON — Claire Bailey on Friday was being called a hero and a “super” lunch lady for performing the Heimlich maneuver on a third-grader who was choking.

Bailey, 58, insisted she’s no hero, and was happy to see Nathaniel Taylor, 9, at school and doing fine.

A grandmother of seven, Bailey is the nutrition program manager at Montello Elementary School. On Thursday she was working the lunch line as students moved through with trays.

A few feet away kids ate at cafeteria tables.

“All of a sudden, he was standing up, coming toward me with his hands across his neck,” Bailey said of Taylor.

She asked, “Are you choking?” The boy nodded. She stood in back of him, wrapped her arms around him, made a fist and pushed in above his bellybutton with force.

After four or five tries, “finally it came up,” she said of the piece of sandwich blocking his airway.

“Hey, it worked!” Taylor said

Thursday was Italian sandwich day. “He took a large bite of the Italian,” Bailey said. “It happened so fast, you don’t even think. It’s like something takes over and you just do it.”

After his airway was clear, Nathaniel wanted to go out for recess, but Bailey took him to the school nurse to get checked over.

School custodian Jim Rubino, who is also certified in emergency first-aid care, was watching, ready to jump in and help.

“But she was doing just fine. She reacted just like that,” Rubino said, snapping his fingers. “She’s a hero.”

The third-grader didn’t get a chance to finish his meal. Bailey told school staff to send him back down “and we’ll fix him a whole new tray.” When the boy came back, “he looked at me and said, ‘I thought I was going to die,’” she said.

Shaken, Bailey said she called the superintendent’s office to tell them what happened. Superintendent Bill Webster came to the school. “He said thank you and shook my hand,” Bailey said. “He was very concerned about the child.”

Webster, who tweets online under the name of LewistonSuper, tweeted “Kudos to Claire Bailey, Montello Nutrition manager who used Heimlich on a student.”

Bailey said she learned how to do the Heimlich seven years ago when all Lewiston nutrition program workers were required to become certified in CPR and first aid. That is no longer a requirement, Bailey said, but she volunteers when the training is offered.

“Working in a place with food and lots of children, it’s important to keep that certification up,” she said. Her grandson performed the maneuver two years ago and saved his brother’s life, she said. The boy was choking on Halloween candy.

Bailey received her training at United Ambulance in Lewiston. “They do it all the time. More people need to look into it,” she said. “You never know.”

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