SpongeBob to the rescue!
Miriam Starobin and Allyson Golden were rehearsing in choir class at Long Beach Middle School when a teacher's joke sent the seventh-graders into fits of laughter.
The two 12-year-olds fell almost to the floor, and Allyson leaned her head back. That's when her stick of gum became lodged in her throat.
Miriam noticed her best friend was quiet. She saw Allyson turn red, saw her kicking her legs.
Then, the most unlikely of influences popped into her head: SpongeBob SquarePants.
In an instant she recalled an episode on the cartoon when SpongeBob's friend, Squidward, was choking and had to be saved.
Miriam sprang into action, wrapping her arms around Allyson from behind.
"I got her up . . . I think I took my left hand and covered it with my right and pushed into her stomach three or four times," Miriam recalled.
The gum flew out and landed a few feet away. Allyson caught her breath.
"I was thinking, 'I am going to die, and I am going to die because I couldn't breathe,' " Allyson said. Afterward, she said of her friend, "I gave her the biggest hug and I was in shock."
Music teacher Sanford Mauskopf had been practicing a song with another student on Tuesday at the piano when Allyson started choking and Miriam saved her.
"I said, 'Wow - you saved her life,' " Mauskopf said.
Miriam has had no medical training. She said she hasn't learned CPR and has not studied the choking warning posters posted in cafeterias and restaurants.
"It was that, and I really just did it," she said. "I remember SpongeBob and Squidward and Squidward choking on a clarinet."
In the episode "Squidtastic Voyage," Squidward gets a clarinet lodged in his throat, and SpongeBob pulls most of it out.
In another episode, Squidward swallows a fork and is resuscitated by SpongeBob's pal, Patrick, a pink starfish who is not particularly bright.
"We think it's smart thinking on Miriam's part, and we are happy that SpongeBob could be such a positive help," said a spokeswoman for Nickelodeon, the network that airs the cartoon.
Miriam said she also is a big fan of medical shows, such as "Grey's Anatomy," and may have picked up some useful knowledge from there.
Meanwhile, teachers are calling her a hero in the hallways and Allyson's mother, Debbie Golden, is very thankful.
And Allyson, who had been chewing gum in school, which is against policy, has vowed never again to chew after Tuesday's incident.
"I am indebted to her for life and she did a wonderful thing saving my daughter," Debbie Golden said. "And I love her."