“Zarah! Zarah! Do something! Do something!”

Frightened by the way Zarah Rahman’s aunt was acting, Zarah’s mother called out to her from a nearby seat. The aunt, who was celebrating a birthday with her family, appeared to be choking.

Zarah Rahman

Zarah Rahman performed the Heimlich maneuver on her aunt after the woman started choking during a birthday party.

Rahman, a student with the Health Sciences Academy, a partnership between Collin College and Plano Independent School District, knew what to do. She assessed the situation, then acted. Seeing that her aunt was struggling to breathe and not making any noise, Rahman pulled her out of her seat and began performing abdominal thrusts (commonly known as “the Heimlich maneuver”). A piece of food came free and her aunt could breathe again.

“My mom looked to me because she knows I am part of the Health Sciences Academy and I know how to do these things,” Rahman said.

Rahman said that assessing the situation was important because her training with the HSA and later refreshers at her job with The Park in Plano nursing home taught her to be sure of her actions before performing them. Rahman said that had her aunt been coughing with only a partial obstruction, she would have tried firmly patting her on the back first. Because she recognized the immediate danger, she moved directly to the Heimlich maneuver.  

“You have to see how you are going to approach things,” she said.” You have limited time, so you have to act quickly.

“Without Health Sciences (Academy), I don’t think I would have been able to perform the way I did.”

The Collin College Health Sciences Academy opened in the fall of 2013 and allows high school students in Plano ISD to explore health care pathways while earning college dual credit hours and certifications in health professions. HSA students can train for careers as electrocardiography technicians (EKG), emergency medical technicians (EMT), certified nurse aides (CNA), and patient care technicians (PCT).

“We are always proud to see our HSA students putting the skills they learn in the classroom into practice,” said Dr. Juli Westcott, director of Health Professions and the Health Sciences Academy. “Zarah is an excellent example of just how valuable the students’ training can be in their everyday lives. I am so thankful she was able to act quickly and appropriately to help her aunt.”

Rahman is a certified nurse aide (CNA) at The Park at Plano, where she works with many residents who are susceptible to choking hazards. She said that without the opportunity to attend the Health Sciences Academy, she would not have landed that position. Now family members and others who know of her training look to her for guidance in situations like the one at her aunt’s birthday.

“I think it is a huge responsibility in general because people do expect you to do something in times of need or in times of danger,” she said.

In addition to holding a CNA certification, Rahman is training to become an EMT. She plans to continue her studies and would like to one day work in pediatric oncology or be a pediatric emergency room specialist.