When a woman began choking at a restaurant and the Heimlich maneuver failed, doctors who were dining nearby performed an emergency tracheotomy with a pocket knife, using a pen as a breathing tube.

The dramatic save unfolded Monday night at the Mark, a restaurant in Bakersfield, when Pauline Larwood, a former Kern County supervisor who serves as a community college trustee, started choking on a piece of meat, the Bakersfield Californian reported.

Working in Larwood’s favor: She was at a symposium on valley fever and surrounded by accomplished physicians from throughout the nation. So when the Heimlich maneuver failed to clear her airway, doctors swung into action, witnesses told the newspaper.

Royce Johnson, professor of medicine at UCLA and and chief of infectious diseases at Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield, used a friend’s pocket knife to make an incision in Larwood’s throat. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, monitored Larwood’s pulse.

When someone called for a pen, Paul Krogstad, a professor of pediatrics and pharmacology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, grabbed one, snapped it in half and inserted the hollow cylinder in the incision, the Californian reported.

"She was fortunate that somebody as bold as Dr. Johnson jumped in,” Krogstad told the paper. “By the time I got there, he already had a plan going, and Dr. Frieden and I just assisted."

Larwood was rushed to Mercy Hospital Downtown and by Tuesday, her son told the newspaper she was doing fine.

Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), told the Californian she was sitting at Larwoods' table with when the incident began. 

“She had already started turning a real like blue, her fingers and her lips,” said Grove, who called 911.

She said Johnson was calm throughout.

"He didn't scream," she recalled. "He just said, 'I need a knife.' "

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jason.wells@latimes.com

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