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Catoosa Sheriff Sisk honored for life saving effort

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Sheriff Gary Sisk and Janice Holcombe Sheriff Gary Sisk and Janice Holcombe
Bill Abline of BiLo, David Carroll, Janice Holcombe and Sheriff Gary Sisk Bill Abline of BiLo, David Carroll, Janice Holcombe and Sheriff Gary Sisk
Catoosa County Commission honors Sheriff Sisk Catoosa County Commission honors Sheriff Sisk
RINGGOLD, GA (WRCB) - The banquet room at the Colonnade in Catoosa County, Georgia was filled on a February Saturday night.  The annual Chamber of Commerce Awards Dinner is the social event of the year.  Tommy and Janice Holcombe were seated at the Ringgold Telephone Company table with more than one reason to enjoy the evening: it was their 39th wedding anniversary.  It was a formal affair, and dinner was about to be served.

Each plate featured two entrees: baked chicken and steak.  Janice Holcombe first sampled the chicken, and then cut off a piece of steak.  Amid the conversation of the eight people at her table, Janice suddenly became quiet.  The steak was lodged in her throat.  One of her table mates, Heather Chacon was first to notice.  “I think she's choking!” Heather said, jumping into action.  Janice pointed to her throat, and shook her head as if to say, “Yes!” Heather, like Janice, a petite woman, wrapped her arms around Janice and tried unsuccessfully to dislodge the food.  Another woman seated nearby, Tammy Webb took over.  She too gave it her best effort, but Janice still couldn't breathe.  Janice's husband Tommy maintained eye contact with her, urging her to focus on him so she wouldn't lose consciousness.  He provided a strong arm for her to steady herself.

Although barely a minute had gone by, “It seemed like forever,” Janice said.  Although plates were clattering and loud voices filled the room, a big man seated two tables away saw some commotion.  Sheriff Gary Sisk, out of uniform and off the clock,  jumped into action.  “He just took over,” Janice said, “and not a moment too soon.  I was close to passing out, or maybe worse.”

“I didn't do anything special,” Sheriff Sisk said.  Janice, her husband, and their friends know better.  This is what they saw, up close and personal.  As Janice was clutching her throat, not getting any air, Sheriff Sisk moved behind her, bent down (he is 6'7?), and did two quick abdominal thrusts, the Heimlich Maneuver.  He turned to face Janice.  She was still struggling to breathe.  He returned to his previous position, performed two more quick thrusts, and the food came out.  As Janice's table mates breathed a sigh of relief, Janice simply breathed, enjoying each breath as never before.

As the banquet ended, and the attendees said their goodbyes, Janice made a beeline for Sheriff Sisk and his wife Meredith.  “I can't thank you enough,” she told him.  The next day, she and Tommy officially celebrated their anniversary at a local restaurant, discussing their near-tragic ordeal from the night before.  “People need to know about this, ” she said.  So she posted a public message of thanks on the Sheriff's Facebook page.

“He's such an honorable man,” she said.  “So many people just don't know what to do, or are afraid to touch someone, thinking they might get sued if anything goes wrong.  But I had two friends who tried really hard, and then Sheriff Sisk finished the job.  He knew what he was doing.  I knew who he was, but I didn't really know him.  I can say this for sure, he's a good, humble man.”

“That's very kind of her,” Sheriff Sisk said.  “But the folks in my department deal with life-and-death situations all the time.  Any of them would have done the same thing.”  A former volunteer fireman and EMT, Sheriff Sisk is among many responders trained in CPR, all of whom undergo re-certification every two years.  “No, this doesn't happen to me every day,” he said.  “But I'm glad I was where I could help her.”

Sheriff Sisk is a strong proponent of CPR training. “Some people just freeze, they don't move when they see someone choking.  They're not ready for it.  And that's not what we were expecting at the Chamber Gala, but this is proof, it can happen anywhere.  Fast food, a fancy restaurant, or in your own home.  You need to know what to do.”

Summing up the memorable evening, Sheriff Sisk said, “I'm just glad I didn't crack her ribs, I'm a big guy.”  When I asked Janice if she was sore, two days after being strongly embraced and jolted by someone twice her size, she said, “No, nothing major.”  I said, “That's great, he was afraid he might've cracked a rib or two.”  She replied, “That would have been okay, at least I'm alive!”

“I don't know where I would be right now without him,” she concluded.  “I'm just so fortunate that he was in the same room.  I want the people of Catoosa County to know what he did for me, and I hope this inspires everyone to be properly trained.”

Catoosa County Commissioners honored Sheriff Sisk with a proclamation, and BiLo Fort Oglethorpe manager Bill Abline presented Sisk with a $100 gift card for the sheriff's favorite charity, Stocking Full of Love.  

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