On the morning of July 4, Denise Sokel worked up the motivation to wash her dirty clothes at Strebel’s Laundry on Quiogue—an ordinary chore that ended with an extraordinary deed.
The laundromat was quiet, just herself, along with a couple who had with them their baby boy, whom the East Quogue resident estimated to be about 8 months old.
“He was the cutest thing, and he kept looking at me while I was folding laundry,” said Ms. Sokel, who works at the Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services, during an interview on July 11. “There was a connection there, you know?”
The infant was sitting in the couple’s cart with their laundry at around 10 a.m., chewing on gummy shark candy, when suddenly his mother grabbed him and ran toward the door in a panic. The woman was screaming and crying, trying frantically to help her son, who was choking, according to Ms. Sokel.
His lips had turned blue by the time Ms. Sokel understood what was happening. She moved quickly but calmly toward them, grabbed the baby from the frantic mother’s hands, and swept her finger in his mouth, removing a piece of the candy. She then held the baby to her torso and performed the Heimlich maneuver, she said.
Finally, he began to breathe.
“She was just amazing,” Linda Hollamby, the owner of the laundromat, said on Thursday, recounting the event.
She noted that she was at the counter and recalls being startled by the commotion. She called 911, though the baby seemed to be breathing normally by the time the ambulance arrived. A member of the Westhampton War Memorial Ambulance happened to be next door at the car wash at the time and was able to respond to the scene almost immediately.
“Everything happened so fast, but if it wasn’t for Denise, I don’t know what would have happened,” Ms. Hollamby said. “The father and mother were both in a state of shock.”
Neither she nor Ms. Sokel know the name of the mother or father, or where they were from. The two women said they dried and folded the family’s laundry while the parents went with their son in an ambulance to the Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead as a precaution.
“I was very calm until after I left there and after I folded all their laundry and saw all the little socks and everything,” Ms. Sokel said, adding that the emotion of the event caught up with her on her drive home.
Before leaving the laundromat, she left her name and phone number with Ms. Hollamby, who shared the information with the father of the baby boy when he returned later that day to pick up the family’s laundry. Ms. Hollamby explained that the couple did not speak English, though one of her employees helped translate what he was saying. He told the worker that his son was doing fine, and he thanked them for their help, she said.
Neither has heard from the family since, they said.
Though she has never had any formal first-aid training, Ms. Sokel said she works in a school for special education children and had seen others perform the Heimlich maneuver in emergencies.
“I was supposed to be there, I guess,” she said, of her holiday heroics.