I did what I could to save the choking child, but I was caught in a slow-motion nightmare of helplessness.

We were visiting relatives in Las Vegas and had taken a carload of children to the Museum of Natural History to see life-size dinosaurs growl and move in a prehistoric fantasy.Kids being kids and parents being wimps, we couldn't leave without visiting the gift shop, where the children got, among other things, jawbreakers disguised as "dinosaur eggs."

We crawled into the 130-degree car and had started rolling out of the parking lot toward the Las Vegas Strip when the screaming commenced.

A jawbreaker was stuck in Stephanie's throat - it wasn't just another false alarm.

I tried the Heimlich maneuver; almost everybody knows about that. But was I doing it right? Was I hurting her, or was I too gentle? My finger went down her throat a few times. I don't remember exactly how many times; those minutes grabbed a chunk of eternity and savagely hung on.

Stephanie started bleeding from her mouth. My hands hadn't been wrapped so close to death since I served as a corpsman's assistant in Vietnam.

Her 2-year-old eyes rolled and pleaded, her body was limp - and she wasn't breathing.

A security guard came and held her upside down and hit her back. People gathered around on the crowded street, but no one really knew what to do to save a choking child.

Stephanie was lying on the grass breathing when the paramedics finally arrived.

No one is sure what saved her. The jawbreaker didn't come out. I might have forced it down her throat, or it might have gone down when she relaxed.

We took her to a clinic where a doctor said she was OK. An X-ray showed nothing was wrong - no sign of the jawbreaker.

The doctor recommended a video that teaches the way to save a choking child. The Red Cross offers classes.

It was painful writing this. I can still feel her tonsils with my finger and see her eyes begging me to save her.

It could happen to you.

* Ron Cook is the Deseret News assistant wire editor. He and his wife, Valorie, have recently gained legal guardianship of Stephanie.