James "Jim" May is 71, suffers from severe dementia and likes to give the thumbs-up to say he's having a good day.
The thumbs-up he exchanged Wednesday with Elgin police officer Jason Lentz had a special meaning. Lentz saved May's life by performing the Heimlich maneuver after the nursing home resident choked on turkey on Thanksgiving.
"You're looking better today!" Lentz said to May. "Last time I saw you, you were a little blue."
Lentz was a few blocks away when the 911 call came at 11:51 a.m. Nov. 23 about a medical emergency at River View Rehab Center, 50 N. Jane Drive. He found May slumped in a wheelchair and surrounded by nursing staff members. Lentz positioned himself behind May, lifted him up, and performed the Heimlich maneuver several times, eventually dislodging the food.
Paramedics arrived about 30 seconds later. May, who quickly became responsive, was taken to Presence St. Joseph Hospital and returned to the nursing facility later that day.
One of the paramedics recommended Lentz for a lifesaving award, which Lentz will receive in January.
May's sisters, Maureen May-Blanco of Elk Grove Village and Pat Marshall of Algonquin, said they were thrilled to meet Lentz. "It was a godsend," May-Blanco said.
The sisters said they found out that Lentz saved their brother's life from the Daily Herald. Marshall said she got a call on Thanksgiving from the nursing home, saying her brother was OK after a choking episode and was being taken to the hospital for X-rays. "I am really glad to meet (Lentz)," Marshall said.
May has been having trouble chewing lately because he forgets to put in his dentures correctly, said his sisters, who see him twice a week.
Several nursing home residents also thanked Lentz for his actions. Helen Allgood said she was sitting with May and called for help when he choked. Staff members responded quickly and one of them performed the Heimlich maneuver, but it didn't work, she said. "But for the grace of God, James is here today."
River View administrator Arshad Rahman said staff members followed protocol by administering the Heimlich maneuver and calling 911.
Lentz said he was glad he could help. "I just happened to be at the right place at the right time."
Lentz was in the news in 2014 when the police department fired him after he made controversial Facebook posts. He fought that decision and an arbitrator changed that to a six-month suspension without pay.
"To me, it's the past," Lentz said. "I'm not bitter about it. I still have a job to do."
Police Chief Jeff Swoboda said Lentz has been doing a great job since his return to duty. "I am so proud of his actions that saved a life," Swoboda said. "That episode three years ago will not define his career. Heroic actions like this will."