Queens, NY – Estelle Itzkowitz survived pancreatic cancer, a near-fatal liver infection and two husbands.
Nothing could stop the 90-pound Jewish grandmother — until she bit into a kosher hot dog at the Savoy assisted-living facility in Queens.
She choked to death at lunch, while slow-footed staff failed to perform the Heimlich maneuver in the crucial minutes after the first bite lodged in her windpipe.
“I thought it was a bad joke when my sister called to tell me,” said Stu Sleppin, Itzkowitz’s heartbroken son, who has filed a wrongful death suit in Queens Supreme Court against the $5,000-a-month luxury residence in Little Neck.
“Their brochures promised onsite, 24/7 nursing staff, and no one thought to do the Heimlich maneuver?” he asked.
Itzkowitz had moved back to New York from Florida three weeks earlier. Sleppin, 53, a Manhattan entrepreneur, said his family is angry that the Savoy never acknowledged what happened.
State public health law requires that personal care aides who work in the dining room must be trained including the Heimlich maneuver.
A Savoy administrator wrote in Itzkowitz’s chart on March 27: “Estelle was eating a hot dog at lunch and passed out onto the table. She did not make any gagging noises. . . . Heimlich maneuver was performed until EMS got here — nothing dislodged.
But Marion Duffy, who was having lunch with Itzkowitz that day around 12:35 p.m., said her friend took one bite of the hot dog and began to gag.
Duffy said she quickly summoned “the pill lady” from the other side of the dining room, who “patted Estelle on the back, kept calling her name and held her hand. That’s about it.”
Asked if anyone did the Heimlich maneuver while Itzkowitz was choking, Duffy was emphatic with her answer. “Absolutely not. I am positive of that,” she said.
At 12:45 p.m., nurse Robin Simeone wrote in the incident report, she had been summoned to the dining room. EMS was alerted two minutes later, and Simeone noted she took a slumped, drooling Itzkowitz away in a wheelchair to await the ambulance.
When paramedics got to Itzkowitz at 12:56 p.m., it was too late. She was not breathing. She had no pulse. Her pupils were “unreactive” and she was cool to the touch, EMS records show. Paramedics performed CPR, but to no avail. When they attempted to insert a breathing tube, they discovered and removed a piece of hot dog from her airway.
The beloved family matriarch was taken to North Shore Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
State health officials were alerted to Itzkowitz’s death at the time, as required by law. They did not cite Savoy.
“According to our records, staff attempted Heimlich and the resident died at the hospital,” state Health Department spokeswoman Beth Goldman said.