Students at Connecticut's Sacred Heart University were left saddened and stunned after a 20-year-old sorority girl died on April 2 from choking during a pancake-eating contest days earlier.
Caitlin Nelson had eaten four or five pancakes at the March 30 charity event put on by her sorority, when she fell to the floor and started shaking uncontrollably, reports New York Daily News.
According to authorities, Nelson was able to spit some of the food out, but she still could not breathe. Nursing students at the event rushed to help her and called 911. Despite employing the Heimlich maneuver and other attempts to save her life, emergency responders were unable to clear her airway for some time. She died days later in a New York hospital, notes Fox News.
"We did what we could until paramedics arrived," said Fairfield Police Lt. Robert Kalamaras, who was on duty at the time and ran across campus to help her, according to the New York Daily News. "It's difficult, it's intense and it's tragic for the family and of course for the entire Sacred Heart community. It's difficult to go and face the parent and tell them what happened."
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Kalamaras said Nelson had food allergies but that they probably did not contribute to her death, which he called "a tragic accident."
This is not the first family tragedy for the Nelsons. When Caitlin was 5, her father, who was a Port Authority police officer, died in the rescue efforts following the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. Like her father, Caitlin has a long history of volunteering to help her community and was studying to become a social worker.
Caitlin was a registered organ donor, so her organs will be used to save other lives.
"My heart is broken for Caitlin's family," said Port Authority Police Benevolent Association President Paul Nunziato. "Like her dad, who gave all he possibly could in the final moments of his life so others may live, Caitlin also gave all she could so others live."
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Caitlin was attending school on a scholarship for the children of those who died in the 9/11 attacks, and some students have discussed founding a scholarship in her name.
"The ripple effect of this -- it's not just our 911 families that it devastated, but people around the country," said one police source.
Thousands of students attended a candlelight vigil for her on April 2, notes The Connecticut Post.