South African Peter Greiner with wife Karin. Besides being grateful to his passer-by saviour, Greiner has appealed for more and more people to sign up for first-aid courses. Image Credit: Ashley Hammond/Gulf News

Dubai: A South African visitor who choked on a piece of onion says he wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for the efforts of a passer-by, who dislodged the blockage by performing life-saving CPR.

Peter Greiner, 77, was with his wife Karin, 73, at Meadows Town Centre on February 10 to collect their grandchildren from school.

Greiner, who lives an hour from Durban and is visiting his son in Dubai, bought a burger and choked on his first bite from an onion that wasn’t properly diced. The elderly couple, made their way to a nearby pharmacy to try and get help. By that time, he was unable to breathe and was turning blue.

Dubai resident John Ashcroft, 71, from Godalming in UK, saw the incident and despite having not brushed on his first-aid training, he stepped in to help the man. Ashcroft initially tried the Heimlich manoeuvre, which involves abdominal thrusts from behind with both arms clasped around the choker’s stomach, pulling tightly to force the obstruction up. However, this didn’t work and Greiner stopped breathing and collapsed on the floor, prompting Ashcroft to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Eventually, the onion came up and Peter regained consciousness. Soon after, paramedics arrived and he was treated at the scene.

By that time Ashcroft disappeared before anyone could thank him. Armed with only the hero’s first name, Greiner’s family launched an appeal to ‘Find John’ through the Facebook page ‘Mums in Dubai’. This got picked up by the Dubai Eye Radio Station, who were then messaged by Greiner’s son Adam. The pair were then able to reconnect and an emotional Greiner was able to thank Ashcroft live on air on Wednesday, albeit via a phone call, as Ashcroft was by now in the Caribbean taking part in a yacht race.

“Thank goodness for John because if it hadn’t been for him I wouldn’t be here talking to you,” Greiner told Gulf News on Thursday.

“He had about 30 seconds to a minute left,” Ashcroft told Gulf News by phone, “He had stopped breathing and had gone blue, so I knew I had saved his life.

“I had a busy evening ahead, however, so I didn’t stick around and I didn’t tell too many people about it besides my wife,” added Ashcroft, who was preparing to catch a flight ahead of his yacht race.

Ashcroft’s wife Judi told their son Adam, however, and Adam’s wife Sophia, who didn’t know about the incident, heard the radio appeal. When the couple met the penny dropped and Adam contacted the radio presenter leading the appeal Tom Urquhart, who just so happens to be his friend.

“It was only until I was having breakfast with my wife the next day, that I realised Peter was probably doing the same, and if somebody hadn’t stepped in to help he probably wouldn’t be here,” added Ashcroft.

The incident shines a light on the UAE’s new draft Good Samaritans Law, which absolves first aiders of legal consequences if something goes wrong.

“My case brings it all out in the open,” said Greiner, a former captain in the merchant navy. “I think the government here has done the right thing with the new law. More and more people should read this and do a first aid course, it only takes an hour but you could save someone’s life.”

Ashcroft, a long-time Dubai resident and former businessman, agreed: “If I hadn’t stepped in and done something I would have felt absolutely mortified if something had happened to Peter, and I think others would want to avoid that situation.”

Greiner’s wife Karin added: “John definitely needs an award because if it wasn’t for him Peter wouldn’t be here, he had turned as blue as my jeans and his eyes were closing.”

What to do if someone is choking

The most important thing is to make sure if they are really choking or not. If they can still talk they are not choking. Once you establish if they are really choking you can put your hands around the patient and squeeze quickly and continuously until the foreign body is expelled, says Dr Khaled Al Koky, Consultant in Internal Medicine from Burjeel Hospital for Advanced Surgery.

If this doesn’t work and the patient collapses and stops breathing call emergency services and start chest compressions. Compressions could also expel the foreign body. The chest compressions are the same that we do for cardiac arrests but after each compression we check the mouth to see if the object has been removed. You continue this process until the ambulance arrives or the patient wakes up.

What is the Good Samaritan Law?

The UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention has recently approved the Rescuer Protection Law, which allows bystanders to offer first aid in cases of medical emergency without the fear of legal repercussions. It used to be an offence to intervene without being trained in first aid, prompting a reluctancy from people to help someone in need for fear of prosecution. This new law will encourage people to provide assistance in life-threatening situations. The new law will be sent to the UAE Cabinet and is expected to be introduced soon after.