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WHS student rescued in 'life-or-death moment'

Woodbury High School student Precious Sikakane (left) was saved by health teacher Bob Nickleby when she began choking on candy in February at the school. Bulletin photo by Mike Longaecker

When Bob Nickleby asked Precious Sikakane to put away the candy she was snacking on last month in class, the Woodbury High School student made a decision that could have ended her life.

Instead of stashing it away for later, the sophomore shoved the rest of the candy in her mouth.

"I should have listened," she said of Nickleby's request.

Moments after she attempted to eat the remaining Skittles, Sikakane began to choke on the candy and collapsed to the floor.

"I honestly thought it was a life-or-death moment," she said last week, recalling the incident.

Nickleby witnessed the episode and rushed over. He said it wasn't immediately clear to him whether Sikakane was unable to breathe, but he decided to err on the side of caution and administered the Heimlich Maneuver.

"I picked her up and started in," he said.

After several heaves, he was able to jettison the rogue Skittle from Sikakane's windpipe. The food freed, Sikakane began to hyperventilate.

She collapsed in the stairwell on her way to the school nurse's office, so paramedics were summoned. Sikakane was taken to the hospital, where she was treated and released.

Looking back on the Feb. 11 episode, Sikakane said she realizes how fortunate she was the incident occurred while she was around Nickleby, who is trained in first aid.

"I was very thankful for that," she said.

So was Woodbury High School Principal Linda Plante.

"What he did was what Bob does every day with every student: he helps them," she said. "This time it just may have saved a life."

All teachers receive first aid training at some point in their careers, Plante said.

For Nickleby, who has taught in the district since 1979, it was the first time he ever had to put his first aid training into practice.

Instinct took over when he saw the incident, he said.

"It's one of those things you do and think about it later," he said.

When he took that time, the gravity of the situation settled in.

"I was a little overwhelmed as I thought about it a few hours later," he said. "It's one of those things ... you hope other people would do for your kids."

As for the Skittles - once Sikakane's favorite candy - they're now on her self-imposed forbidden list.

And, she said, there is a lesson to be learned through the ordeal.

"Don't eat food in class," she said. "I don't even bother to do it anymore."