Foundation remembers Seaford boy

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A local children’s food choking prevention foundation recently held their first fundraiser to raise awareness about the dangers of choking on July 23.

The J.T.’s Law Foundation is an organization founded in honor of J.T. Bartolomeo, of Seaford, who died in Disney World, in Orlando, Fla., in April 2003, at 3-years-old, from choking on a hot dog.

“I had no idea that a hot dog was one of the top causes of death for children, that certain foods can do that,” Vicki Bartolomeo, J.T.’s mother, said.

The fundraiser was held at Sonny’s Canal House in Baldwin Harbor, where roughly $4,000 was raised for the foundation. “We had a whole bunch of baskets and a 50/50, and there was a fee to get in,” she said, adding that the fee was $40 and 25 baskets were raffled off.

Drinks and appetizers were served at the event. “And then we did a demonstration of what to do if someone is choking,” she said, further explaining that techniques differed for infants, children and adults. For the 50/50, $400 was given to the winner, and $400 was given back to the foundation.

According to the New York State Department of Health, the fourth leading cause of unintentional death for children under 5-years-old is choking, and nonfatal choking for young children is caused most commonly by food.

“It’s just things you don’t think of [and] things that can be so preventative,” Bartolomeo, 50, of Seaford, said. “Don’t give your kid food in the back seat, in a booster chair, in the car. If they’re not sitting down, they shouldn’t be eating.”

The foundation was organized roughly six months ago by Joan Huhues, Bartolomeo’s sister-in-law. “The purpose of the foundation is to spread awareness of the dangers of certain foods and choking hazards,” Bartolomeo said.

Huhues, 47, of Baldwin, said it is important for people to become more aware of choking dangers.

“It sends over 12,000 children to hospital emergency rooms every year for food choking related injuries, and it takes the life of a child every five days, it’s estimated,” she said. “So clearly these numbers are high, and the reason why they’re high for something that could possibly be prevented is because parents are just not aware of this danger, the high risk of it.”

Bartolomeo said she and Huhues are in the process of getting refrigerator magnets that list foods that are unsafe for children at different ages. She said grapes should be cut into four pieces, and cheese sticks and hotdogs should also be cut.

It is important that parents, or caregivers, know what to do in choking situations, because by the time a 911 call ambulance arrives at the scene, it will be too late, Bartolomeo said. “Always be watching,” she said. “You have to keep your eye on your child. It only takes minutes for the lack of oxygen to get to the brain for a child to pass away.”

The JT’s Law Foundation is based on J.T.’s Law, which was signed in August 2007, and has been state law for 12 years, according to the New York State Assembly website.

Bartolomeo said J.T.’s Law is a child food choking prevention act. “It was just to try to bring awareness to daycares [and] school cafeterias,” she said.

Through this law, the department of health creates criteria that determine which foods pose as choking hazards, highlighting those that are a risk to children, according to the New York State Assembly. The department’s responsibilities also include distributing educational material about food choking hazards and recording food choking incidents.

The law was sponsored by Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg and former New York State Senator Dean Skelos.

For more information about the JT’s Law Foundation, visit https://www.facebook.com/pg/JTsLaw/posts/.