Quick thinking, training make Levi Esses a hero

Sep 23, 2015
Dean of Students Levi Esses

Newman University Dean of Students Levi Esses is known on campus as a friendly man who is there to help his students, and pose for group selfies from time to time.

Now, as a result of his quick action in a potential life-threatening situation Sept. 22, Esses is being hailed as a hero.

Esses’ rise to hero status began when Newman Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Austin, Ph.D. was walking to a committee meeting in the Dugan Student Center, and began to choke on a piece of candy we was eating.

Michael Austin, Ph.D.
Michael Austin, Ph.D.

“I made one of the crucial mistakes an administrator can make, which is I tried to walk and chew at the same time, and that never works out well,” Austin said.

Esses was talking with students at the IT Help desk when he noticed Austin was having breathing issues.

“I just thought maybe he was just having a coughing spell, but as he got coughing more and more I got a little bit concerned,” Esses explained. “I said, ‘Dr. Austin, are you choking?’ and when he shook his head (yes) that’s when I reacted to do the Heimlich maneuver.”

It took only two attempts, and Austin was able to breathe again.

“It’s hard to tell what would have happened. It’s very possible I could have died,” Austin said. “I’m very grateful that Levi thinks quickly, that he has training and that he was very quickly able to make the right decision and very possibly saved my life, and I will always be very grateful to him.”

Seconds after Esses administered the Heimlich on Austin, a group of Newman nursing students who had been studying in the student center arrived on the scene.

“We high fived him afterwards, and it was really inspiring to us because here we are going to school every day working hard to save people, and then you see your dean of students, who is not a nursing major, go and perform the Heimlich on someone,” said first year nursing student Tanya Miller. “It was really inspiring.”

Miller and the other nursing students in the center helped assess Austin’s condition.

Dean of Students Levi Esses with students.
Dean of Students Levi Esses with students.

“They were able to respond as well,” Esses said. “It was good for our nursing students to be there and I’m sure they would have responded in a similar fashion. They gave me a round of applause when I came out [after Austin left Esses’ office]. At the time I didn’t think of it as a big deal.”

Esses has been CPR certified several times but until yesterday never had to use it.

“At that point I just reacted,” Esses said. “It does tend to work out so it does really work. All that CPR training…what they say does work.”

Other Newman students were impressed with Esses as well.

“I think it’s awesome,” senior Emilie Leivian said. “I think it was ‘right place at the right time.’”

When Esses explained the incident to his wife Janice, who is Newman head softball coach, she reacted with astonishment.

“She said she was surprised that I responded so quickly, that I didn’t wait for someone else to respond, and that’s probably because at home when she asks me to do something, I don’t do it all the time….or at least right away.”

After sharing the story of the incident with his family, Austin was instructed by his wife that he can’t eat candy ever again.

“And if I do eat candy I’m going to have to bring Levi,” Austin quipped. “He will probably get some angry emails for keeping me alive.”