Shops & Markets

Worker at Sainsbury’s Altrincham hailed a hero after saving the life of choking three-year-old girl

By David Prior at

A worker at Sainsbury’s in Altrincham has been hailed a hero after saving the life of a three-year-old girl who was choking on a piece of ham.

Jed Boutall, meat and deli counter manager at the Lloyd Street supermarket, sprang into action after Marla Southworth, a pupil at Stamford Park Infant School in Hale, started choking on a free sample of ham on offer in the store.

The terrifying incident happened yesterday afternoon after Marla and her mum, Gemma, stopped off on the way home from pre-school to pick up a snack.

Gemma told Altrincham Today: “I was going to grab her a packet of crisps but then I thought I’d see if there was any cooked food because she hadn’t had lunch. There was a piece of ham as a free sample so I picked one up to give to her, and the next thing I turned round and at first thought she was gagging.

“I was like, ‘spit it out’, but it became apparent that she wasn’t just gagging. She started going ‘aaargh’, and that was it, I just panicked. I shouted ‘she’s choking!’. I bent down and put her over my knee and I was trying to bang her… I must have hit her a few times on the back, but it wasn’t coming out. Everything was a bit of a blur, but the next thing Jed was bent down next to me and he just grabbed hold of her and within two hits it was out.”

The Altrincham branch of Sainsbury’s where the drama happened

Jed, a 45-year-old father of two from Cheadle Hulme, said he called on the first aid training he has received at Sainsbury’s over the past 10 years, with his most recent refresher course coming in September.

“I just heard Gemma shout out, ‘she’s choking’, and I just rushed out,” he said.

“Somebody on the counter said later that Marla’s eyes were starting to roll. I pushed her on the back, pushed upwards, and heard Gemma say it’s come out. We were both shaking.”

Gemma added: “She couldn’t breathe and wasn’t making a noise at that point, it was that blocked. There was no sound. But as soon as it came out she started crying.”

Gemma, who was brought up in Altrincham but now lives in Wythenshawe, said the incident lasted around 30 seconds but “felt like forever”. “It just wasn’t coming out, and I was hitting her quite hard to try and get it out.”

Gemma Southworth with three-year-old daughter Marla

Gemma and Jed enjoyed an emotional reunion at the store today, with Marla having drawn a special picture for Jed which he said he would be framing.

“I just couldn’t wait to come back and see him,” said Gemma, who also has an older daughter. “You don’t think about what could have happened. I could have been at home in a completely different situation or I could have been in the park and there could have been nobody there. We’re eternally grateful to him. Until you’re actually in that situation you don’t realise. It was very ‘this is it’.”

Gemma revealed that Jed had even called her at home later yesterday afternoon to check up on both of them.

Steve Wilson, deputy manager at the Sainsbury’s store in Altrincham, paid tribute to the way his colleague had handled the situation.

Jed Boutall came to the rescue of Marla,3, when she started choking when out with mum Gemma

“What’s come across is how calm Jed was in that situation,” he said. “To have somebody of Jed’s calibre as a first aider makes you feel quite secure just in case there’s a customer or colleague accident in the store.

“We do have a robust training package and after a certain length of time people get refresher training, because things do change, and that was evident in the way he reacted yesterday in saving the little girl’s life.”

Despite the in-store drama, Gemma said she had managed to continue on with her original intention of buying Marla a packet of crisps.

“Well yeah I did!” she said. “That’s the thing with choking – once you’ve finished choking, you’re fine. We came down here to Starbucks in the store and got her a drink.”

The prospect of what could have happened to young Marla did hit home later, however.

“It did – I saw my dad later and he said ‘what’s up with you’, and I said I think you should just kiss Marla and be thankful that she’s here, because a man has just had to practically save her live in Sainsbury’s. I am very, very grateful.”