Rick Denlinger has spent all of three weeks working as a server at Valley Café in Wadsworth, and he’s already being hailed as a hero.
Denlinger, 41, said an older gentleman was sitting at the counter eating breakfast last week when he began choking.
“We were talking, and I looked up and his face was bright red, and he was just pointing at his throat and was making coughing and choking sounds,” Denlinger said.
He said he didn’t even know the man’s name, just that he was a Valley Café regular, when he rushed around the counter and began performing the Heimlich maneuver about 7:30 a.m. Wednesday
“I’m not really trained or anything. I pulled about three times, and on the third time I heard it come up.”
It wasn’t until afterward that Denlinger thought about the incident and how differently it could have turned out if he didn’t know what to do or wasn’t close by when the man started choking.
“Luckily I was up front, in the right spot at the right time,” Denlinger said. “It happened really quickly. It didn’t really sink in until later how serious the situation actually was.”
The man, whom he now knows as Mark, came into the restaurant a few days later with a personalized thank-you note, he said.
“He said (it was) for saving his life. Who knows, who knows what could have happened,” Denlinger said.
Valley Café owner Nicole Mikoda said she and the Valley Café team are proud of Denlinger for his actions.
“We are all aware of those types of things, but you never know until it happens how you are actually going to respond,” she said. “He just went into action and we are so proud of him.”
Mikoda said customers have been coming into the restaurant and asking, “Where is the hero.”
Denlinger, however, said it’s a little strange being recognized for doing something that was just one man helping another in need.
“I did what hopefully anyone would have done in that situation,” he said.
After a decade working as a self-described, part-time waiter in New York City, Denlinger, a Pennsylvania native, said he and his girlfriend decided to relocate, and she suggested her hometown of Akron.
“I said that sounds fine with me.”
After trying his hand at a few jobs outside the food service industry, Denlinger decided to come back to serving and began working at Valley Café, 101 High St.
“I’ve been serving over a decade and never seen anything like that, never anyone unable to talk, unable to breath. I’ve never seen it that extreme,” he said.
Contact reporter Nathan Havenner at (330) 721-4050 or email@example.com.