bY: Kevin Diaz - Houston Chronicle, writer
WASHINGTON - Kissing babies is not the only way politicians can win votes and curry favor.
Saving them from choking, when the need arises, works just as well. Especially in an election year in the the only competitive congressional race in Texas.
Rep. Pete Gallego, a Democrat from Alpine, Texas, was flying back home Friday evening when a small child in the middle seat next to him started choking on his chicken nuggets.
The 3-year-old's mother, Paige Hoch Flippen, from Helotes, Texas, appeared in a panic.
"I could tell right away," she said of her son, Cash. "He just sucked it back. He couldn't breathe."
The mother, cradling a six-month old girl in her lap, tried hitting the boy on his back to dislodge the obstruction. With growing apprehension, she flung off her seat belt and jumped up, desperately looking for help.
"He's choking!" she yelled.
Gallego, wearing earphones to get caught up on the news, turned to see the small child, who had been trying to befriend him moments before, in a pose of quiet distress. He thought he heard the mother yell "My God, my baby's choking!"
"She had a lot going on," Gallego said of the mom and her two travelling kids. A dad, Gallego had gone through this drill before.
Gallego put one hand on the kid's back, and the other on his sternum. "I knew what was going to happen, so I aimed him forward," he said. But at the critical moment, Cash turned to look at the first-term congressman. "I ended up with chicken nuggets on my chest."
"Yeah, he got chicken nuggets on him," Hoch Flippen recalled. "It was lovely."
The crisis averted, other passengers helped clean up Gallego's business suit and tie. In the ensuing conversation, Hoch Flippen came to realize who Gallego was. She also discovered that he was an old West Texas acquaintance of her husband, who wasn't on the flight.
"It was one of those small-world stories," Gallego said.
"It didn't click until he introduced himself and gave me his card," said Hoch Flippen. She was exhausted, on the last leg of a long journey from West Virginia, visiting friends. "He's actually my congressman," she said. "My congressman just saved my son."
The evening American Airlines flight from Dallas-Fort Worth finally landed in San Antonio.
"I didn't smell very good when I got off the plane," Gallego recalled.
But this being 2014, the event had to be chronicled on Twitter, where it made the digital rounds over the weekend.
Tweeted Gallego: "3yr old on flight was choking. Mom panics-but I did same thing I did for Nicolas yrs ago. Young man is safe. I have chicken nuggets all over."
The grateful mom's rendition came out on twitter the next morning:
"(At)RepPeteGallego (at)petegallego saved my son last night as he was choking on our flight home! So thankful for his quick reaction!"
"(At)petegallego, Cash and I thank you for your quick response! It was so scary to see my son unable to breathe! Sorry for the mess! Thank you!!!!"
The next day's Twitter feeds also showed interest from NBC News, which wouldn't be such a bad thing for a Democrat embroiled in a potentially competitive challenge from GOP candidate Will Hurd.
Hoch Flippen, for her part, leans Republican, though her dad is a Democratic Commissioner in Glasscock County, Texas. Did Gallego win her vote? "After saving my son's life, I'd probably say yes."
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