Skip to content

Dining hall employee saves life of choking U. student

Halil Bektas, a utility worker in the beverage department at the Livingston Dining Commons, performed the Heimlich maneuver on Melanie Buschgans, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year. – Photo by Courtesy of Nelson Gonzalez

Last month, a dining hall employee saved a student's life while she was choking on her food at the Livingston Dining Commons.

Halil Bektas, a utility worker in the beverage department at the Livingston Dining Commons, said he has worked at the same dining hall since 2011, though he initially worked in takeout.

Bektas said he decided to work at the University due to its environment, employment stability and because some of his family members also work at Rutgers.

"I chose to work at Rutgers because it was a great place with so much opportunity," he said.

Although he said his typical workday responsibilities include wiping down surfaces at the beverage station, rotating drink options and placing glasses for students to use, his shift unfolded differently on February 4.

"(I) started an hour early cleaning the beverage station," he said. "While cleaning, I heard a girl yelling."

Bektas said he noticed panicked students in the dining hall, and one of them asked him for help as a student was choking on her meal. He said he then administered the Heimlich maneuver to release the lodged food and save her from choking.

He said that while students were unaware of how to respond at the time of the incident, multiple students had expressed their gratitude to Bektas after his actions.

"The student thanked me as well as her mom a few minutes later through FaceTime," he said.

The student Bektas saved was Melanie Buschgans, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year. Despite the incident having occurred a month ago, Bektas has still kept in contact with Buschgans. He said they check in with each other whenever she visits to eat at the dining hall.

"Every time she comes in, she makes sure to say hello, and we ask each other how we are doing," he said.

While it is not required for University employees to be certified in knowing how to perform life-saving techniques such as the Heimlich maneuver, Bektas said there are signs posted around the interior of the dining hall detailing what to do in case of a similar emergency.

He said that he learned how to perform the Heimlich maneuver from reading these signs in addition to previous employment experience. Bektas said he had not witnessed a similar situation during his 12 years at the University.

He also said that while choking incidents are hard to prevent in their entirety, students in the dining hall are always visible to faculty should such an incident occur.

When asked what he hopes students will take away after listening to his story, Bektas had a simple message to share.

"Call for help as soon as possible," he said. "(The situation) could have been much worse if someone hadn’t asked for help."

Related Articles

Join our newsletterSubscribe