Rutgers Dining Hall Worker Saved Life Of Choking Student When No One Else Knew How

Melanie Buschgans was at dinner with friends at Rutgers University's Livingston Dining Hall Feb. 4 when something unusual happened: She began to choke.

Halil Bektas and Melanie Buschgans.
Halil Bektas and Melanie Buschgans. Photo Credit: Contributed

The Waldwick native tried washing the cucumbers down with water to no avail. Then, her friends started to panic.

"We went to the front desk and they didn't know what to do," recalls Buschgans, 18.

And so, Buschgans' friends began yelling out for help.

Halil Bektas, who works in the beverage section in the cafeteria, heard some noise. It's not unusual for college students to be noisy, so at first, he ignored it. But then Bektas turned around and he saw a girl summoning for help, saying her friend was choking, he said.

Bektas went over to Buschgans and instinctively performed the Heimlich maneuver. He's never learned it before, but he's seen it done after years of working in the dining industry, and sees the posters on how to perform it hanging around the dining hall, Bektas told Daily Voice.

On the third or fourth blow, two or three sliced cucumbers became dislodged from Melanie's throat, Bektas said. 

"She thanked me, and I told her to sit down and relax a little bit," said Bektas, a father of two, who came to the US from Turkey in 1996. "She drank some water until she started to feel normal, then it was out of my hands and into my manager's hands to do the incident report."

In the moments that followed, Bektas felt worried. He was still in shock and was just hoping that everything would be okay. But once he noticed he truly saved a choking victim, he felt proud, he said.

"I felt pretty good after that — she’s fine and safe, thank God," Bektas said. 

He told his family about it when he went home that night, and they, too, wanted to know how he did it.

Melanie, who is a lifeguard CPR certified, says she's surprised more people aren't trained in the maneuver, or CPR.

"I know how important it is to know it and I’m thankful that Halil knew and was around," she said. "It's something that took ten seconds, but could save a whole life."

to follow Daily Voice Essex and receive free news updates.