KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) - Just one day after being saved from choking to death on a handful of sandwich meat, a 22-year-old man is thankful he has a second chance.
On Wednesday evening at about 10 p.m., Brice Harris was working at Jimmy John's at 3116 S. Westnedge in Kalamazoo when he decided to eat several slices of capicola all at once.
Capicola is a type of salami that Jimmy John's puts on several sandwiches.
Harris said two orders that night had asked the capicola be removed from the sandwich, so after closing the store he thought he'd try to eat the whole stack of six slices.
"I knew they were going to throw [the meat] away anyway and I looked at my co-worker and said, 'Hey, do you dare me to eat this all at once?' And she looked at me with a surprised look and said, 'No, don't do that.' And I did it anyway," said Harris. "It was a dare of my accord."
24 Hour News 8 asked Harris what he was thinking.
"I wasn't thinking. There was no common sense, no trace of it at that time."
Harris realized the error of his actions almost immediately after putting the meat in his mouth.
"I chewed it for probably about 30 seconds, and then I tried to swallow what I had started to chew. But then I realized it was all going down at once, and then I realized that was the point of no return," said Harris.
He said he wanted to watch the surveillance video of the incident, but that watching it once was enough.
"I was pretty close to tears watching it, 'cause like seeing yourself basically die on camera is not fun to watch at all," Harris said. "I've just been praying to God and thanking God over and over for keeping me alive and giving me a second chance at life, because that's essentially what I got."
Harris wasn't exaggerating. According to the time code on the surveillance video, he was without oxygen for several minutes. The surveillance footage shows co-workers spring into action and try to repeatedly dislodge the huge hunk of meat from Harris' throat.
"The whole time I was just thinking, 'I'm choking. This is not good. I am going to die.' Just kind of your last moment kind of thing," said Harris.
He said the last thing he remembers is tearing off his apron. After that, the video shows, he still walked around another minute or two before he collapsed and started convulsing.
"I'm pretty sure I was probably legally dead there for a minute or two," Harris said. "In the video, my face is like a dark purple, my lips are blue. My co-workers told me my lips were blue and my eyes were bulging out."
Harris, 22, had been unconscious for four to five minutes when first responders arrived on the scene.
Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Officer Keaton Nielsen described the scene to 24 Hour News 8.
"We walked into Jimmy John's and [Harris'] pupils were pinpoint, his eyes were bloodshot, he had a blue face, blue lips, almost like what you would see on TV. Just that stereotypical lack of oxygen."
Nielsen began life-saving measures and dislodged the meat within 30 seconds to a minute.
"You could hear him give a sort of a wet cough and you could hear [the meat] dislodge a little bit," said Nielsen.
Nielsen said almost immediately Harris' color started to return to normal and Harris started to breathe on his own.
"It's really amazing how fast your body will recover from something like that or how fragile it can be," said Nielsen. "With just two minutes of no oxygen, how fragile you really are."
Nielsen said one more minute could have made this close call a deadly one.
"Without any intervention, he likely would have gone into cardiac arrest within the next minute," said Nielsen. "Without any further life-saving measures, without opening an airway, he very likely could have died."
Harris was taken to Bronson Methodist Hospital and released after a few hours.
"Endless thanks," Harris said. "I wouldn't be here today without him (Officer Nielsen). All I can do is thank him from the bottom of my heart for saving my life."
Nielsen said it wasn't just his efforts, but also the efforts of Harris' co-workers that kept him alive.
"His fellow employees were actually doing abdominal thrusts, which were great," said Nielsen. "I'm fairly certainty that their efforts helped keep the capicola from going any further down into his throat."
Nielsen said he thinks his life-saving efforts were more successful because he was more forceful. He said when someone's life is on the line you have to do whatever you need to do.
"He tried for six. I don't think I'd go for seven pieces of capicola to eat, but you know, I just wish him the best and hopefully -- not a lot of people get a second chance -- so hopefully, he just takes advantage of it," said Nielsen.
Rich Keizer teaches CPR classes for Rockford Ambulance and said the difference between life and death can be three things:
"First of all, you have to knock some wind out of him. You have to do it in a safe way to some degree. ...And the third thing, which I don't think is talked about enough, it has to startle
Timing is key. The lack of oxygen was close to causing more damage in Harris' case.
"He likely would have gone into cardiac arrest within the next minute," said Nielsen.
"Honestly, this is just a huge embarrassment on my part. I mean, I embarrassed the company I worked for and myself. All I can do is apologize for my actions. I didn't think that one through at all," said Harris.
Harris' boss said Harris' embarrassment is punishment enough, and he will not lose his job at Jimmy John's. The boss said up until Wednesday night, Harris was a model employee.
Harris told 24 Hour News 8 there is still a piece of meat in his lung that his doctor said will with be absorbed into his body or may need to be surgically removed.
The American Red Cross, Rockford Ambulance and YMCA teach CPR classes to the public --
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