Cleaners’ Owner Saves Choking Customer Before Holiday

By Cheryl Conway

The owners of Route 10 Cleaners in Succasunna enjoy seeing their customers, especially their regulars, and conversing about their lives.

But when one regular reentered the shop on Fri., Dec. 23, co-owner Joe Caban realized something was wrong so he responded quickly. A gentleman in his 70s came back in beating his chest and gagging.

Caban, who at the same time called 911, raced around the counter as his customer collapsed, taking him down to the ground with him. When he swatted his back several times, a piece of food came shooting out of the man’s mouth just before emergency responders showed up at the scene.

“It was the scariest thing,” says Caban, 45 of Stewartsville. “I’m so just so happy he was ok. It was so scary; my hands were shaking. He came into the store clutching his chest and neck because he couldn’t breathe. I thought he was having a heart attack.”

It was the Friday heading into the holiday weekend, so Caban decided to treat his customers to some coffee and donuts that he put out on the counter. His wife, Maritza usually manages the shop while he works at his full-time job but he happened to be running things that day.

One of their regulars came in, an elderly gentleman from Succasunna, who wishes to remain anonymous.

“He was dropping off a coat and picking up some clothing,” describes Caban. “He was eating a donut,” that he grabbed off the counter. “It was not even a minute, he came back in to get his ticket, then he left. He put the stuff in his car, then walked back in. I was confused…but he was choking.

“He was punching at his chest. He was gagging a little bit.  I was on the other side of the counter; I ran around by the front door, he was clawing at his chest that’s when he started to collapse. I grabbed him; we both fell to the ground. He fell on me. His eyes started to roll back. I turned him on his side; swatted him three times and the donut came shooting out. It went down the wrong pipe.”

During the entire encounter, Caban was on the phone with the 911 operator listening to instructions.

“I have the phone cradled between my head and shoulder,” says Caban. It was amazing that I held the phone between my head and shoulders as I was falling down.”

The police asked him to stay there until they arrived to make sure he was ok, says Caban.

“He felt fine after that but asked me to have him wait,” until the ambulance arrived.

Caban is grateful to have taken CPR training last year.

“I wasn’t able to do the Heimlich, says Caban, “he’s too big of a man.” But knocking on his back seemed to have done the trick thankfully, he says.

No one was more thankful than his customer.

“He was happy,” says Caban. “He told police I helped save him.” The next day he visited Caban. “I gave him a big hug afterward. He’s a good man. He’s such a great customer; he comes in every week; always talks to us about his family. He’s a really, really nice man.”

Still shaken up, Caban says it’s bizarre. I never want to be in that position again. I was a nervous wreck afterwards. I thank God I was there. The whole situation was really scary.

“It was like the biggest Christmas gift ever,” he concludes. “I was thrilled beyond belief.”


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