Student chokes to death while speed-eating

By David Young, The China Post

CHANGHUA, Taiwan — “We won’t blame anybody,” a grieving mother said yesterday. She doesn’t blame Da Yeh University at Dachun near Changhua, where her son chocked to death in a student society-sponsored “gourmand” contest. Chen Chun-sheng, a 23-year-old student in the second year of Da Yeh’s graduate program on bioscientific technology, was found unconscious in a school restroom shortly before 1:00 p.m. He was among 60 students who took part in the contest, where contenders ate two steamed dumplings each, the winner being the one who finished within the shortest time. It is a simple, and usually not dangerous, contest, which Da Yeh students organize every year. The two dumplings had to be eaten like two egg sandwiches. Each dumpling had one fried egg inserted. “He certainly was a fast-eater,” said another contestant. Chen stood 1.7 meters tall, weighing a little more than 90 kilograms, or about 200 pounds. After he ate the two dumplings as fast as he could, Chen chit-chatted with other participants, some of them his classmates. Then Chen went to a nearby toilet, and never came out. A friend who happened to go to the bathroom afterwards found him sprawled on the floor. Help was called and a school paramedic rushed to the scene and tried performing the Heimlich maneuver on him — an emergency procedure to help someone who is choking because food or other material is lodged in the trachea. The paramedic was able to get some residue of the dumplings from Chen’s windpipe, but then called for an ambulance. Chen was taken to the hospital, where doctors did what they could to resuscitate him, but it was too late. One emergency room doctor, who checked Chen on arrival, said he had stopped breathing for quite some time. “His pupils were already dilated,” he said. Doctors were able to pick out some more dumpling residue from Chen’s trachea. They announced he died of asphyxia, or lack of oxygen and excess of carbon dioxide in the blood. The grief-stricken mother told school authorities she doesn’t blame organizers of the contest. She asked the authorities to help shocked students who organized the contest as an extracurricular activity to “recover from their trauma.” “That’s the only way to let my son leave us in peace,” the mother said.

The university authorities immediately banned all student society activities like the “gourmand” contest. They presented NT$10,000 to the mother as “comfort money” and promised a NT$1 million insurance payment. “In the future,” a Da Yeh spokesman said, “students have to apply with the office of the dean of students for similar extracurricular activities. Without approval, no activities should be held.” Eating too fast has often led to asphyxia. A few Japanese students have died in contests like the fatal one that occurred at Da Yeh. However, the Japanese didn’t eat steamed dumplings, but rather soba noodles or sushi. Half a dozen Japanese die each year during the New Year festival, when it’s customary to eat “zoni,” or sliced rice cake cooked in sweetened soup. Those who eat zoni as fast as Chen risk choking themselves. The Heimlich maneuver is a basic procedure to help someone who is choking. The rescuer should hold the choking person from behind and place one fist, thumb side in, against the victim’s abdomen, in the mid-line immediately above the navel. The other hand should be placed over the fist. Quick upward thrusts are then administered to force the obstruction out of the trachea. A maximum of five thrusts should be tried, but each individual thrust should be delivered with sufficient force as to attempt to clear the airway by itself. Vomiting or internal organ damage can result from this maneuver, though the risks are lessened if the rescuer has been properly trained.