HR staffer makes personnel, personal - South Texas Veterans Health Care System (STVHCS)
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South Texas Veterans Health Care System (STVHCS)

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HR staffer makes personnel, personal

A picture of two individuals standing in front of the Audie Murphy VA Hospital

South Texas VA HR Assistant, Alan Thompson, was getting ready for the New Employee Orientation briefing when he saw his colleague was choking and needed help. He used the Heimlich Maneuver. Just prior to that, he also noticed another staffer with heat exhaustion and assisted her. (VA photo by Steve Goetsch)

By Steve Goetsch
Friday, May 31, 2019

Alan Thompson, an HR Assistant with the South Texas Veterans Health Care System was beginning his

routine early Monday. That is until a miniature muffin changed all of that.

He and an HR colleague, Sara Pruneda, began setting up for New Employee Orientation (NEO), preparing to welcome the newest group of staff to the organization. Besides valuable information, attendees are provided beverages and snacks. Enter muffin. Pruneda, making sure everything logistically was squared away, took a bite of muffin and it did not go where it was supposed to.

“I couldn’t talk right away,” Pruneda said. “When water didn’t get rid of it, I began to cry,” she said.

Thompson, was in the vicinity, standing with a few others outside the briefing room. He said he knew something was immediately wrong. Besides having medical training, the military teaches you to be vigilant. Thankfully both were in play that Monday.

Thompson is an Air Force Veteran who was a physical therapy technician during his tenure. Working at Wilford Hall in San Antonio, he was required to maintain certain lifesaving skills. One of those being the Heimlich Maneuver. Coincidentally, the life-saving procedure created by Dr. Henry J. Heimlich is celebrated on June 1, Heimlich Maneuver Day.

He said the whole episode lasted only 10 seconds.

He went back to that training, beginning with back blows. That didn’t work, so he moved right to abdominal thrusts, only needing to give two, until the culprit, a small piece of muffin, was dislodged. Once Pruneda began coughing, he knew it was over. 

Pruneda is grateful to her HR partner who stepped up in such a decisive manner. Just a few minutes earlier, he recognized another employee who was overcome by heat exhaustion and assisted her to a cool location to rest, avoiding a possible fall.

The humble Thompson, who began his career at the VA as a Certified Nursing Assistant, said his former boss, Carol Thompson, who is now retired, had a robust basic lifesaving skills training program that kept them on their toes.

The muffin is now a standing joke in the office, but Thompson’s knowledge and quick action are a good reminder of the great care taken for not only South Texas Veterans, but employees as well.  



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