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Great-grandma, 93, saves friend from choking

Mary Chimera doesn't understand what all the fuss is about.
Sure, the 93-year-old great-grandmother recently saved a friend from choking on a piece of chicken, by performing an ad hoc version of the Heimlich maneuver on the woman. But the sharp, spry nonagenarian doesn't consider herself a hero, saying she just tried to help someone in need.
"I didn't know if I was doing it right," Chimera said in an interview Wednesday in her well kept Amherst apartment. "She frightened me."
But Chimera's son, Paul, who took to Facebook to tout his mother's quick-thinking actions, couldn't be more proud of her.
"I'm amazed at how understated she is about it," said the younger Chimera, who teaches journalism and public relations at Daemen College.
The episode took place Saturday afternoon, when Mary Chimera, a passionate New York Yankees fan, was watching the team's game against the Oakland Athletics, a contest that lasted nearly six hours.
She decided to head down from her fifth-floor apartment in the Peppertree Heights Apartments to get her mail during a commercial break.
"Very few things will pull her away from a Yankees game," Paul Chimera said.
Mary Chimera got into the elevator, on her way to the first floor, but the car stopped on the second floor. As the doors opened, a friend standing in front of the elevator managed to say, "I can't breathe - I'm choking."
Chimera, who turns 94 next month but looks a decade younger, is 5 feet tall and petite. Her friend, who did not want to speak to The News, is about "a head taller" and even thinner, according to Chimera.
Chimera walked behind her friend and wrapped her arms around her midsection. Chimera said she hasn't been trained in the Heimlich maneuver but she was just trying to force the food out of her friend's throat.
"I was squeezing, and then I hit her back," Chimera recalled.
Moments later, the friend said she had managed to swallow the offending food, a piece of chicken. "She said, 'Oh, I'm fine now,' " Chimera said.
Chimera gently chided her friend for not calling, or having someone call, 911 while she was choking. Another resident of the apartment took her to get some water, and Chimera continued on to pick up her mail and returned to her room and the Yankees game.
She hasn't told many people about what she did, though word is getting out and she has received congratulations from building manager Doug Citron.
The longtime Town of Tonawanda resident has lived in the Peppertree Drive apartment complex, a facility for the elderly and people with disabilities, for four years.
She raised her three children as a stay-at-home mother but worked for a time as a cashier in the former Sattler's in the Boulevard Mall and as a clerk-typist for the county's Purchasing Department. She also volunteered for 10 years at Erie County Medical Center.
She still gets together with a group of friends to play cards, but not canasta or pinochle.
"We play poker," Chimera said, though the bidding rarely rises above 5 or 10 cents.
Chimera said she has stayed active over the years, swimming and walking and making her meals instead of buying prepared food.
Her husband of 58 years, Joseph, died in 2002, but she still lives independently, cooking manicotti and baking lemon meringue pie.
Chimera apologized for not having any pie when she met with a reporter and photographer to revisit the weekend's excitement.
She didn't expect her son, or the local paper, to make a big deal out of what she did.
Mary Chimera casually described what happened Saturday when Paul Chimera and his wife came over the next night for dinner.
" 'Oh my God,' he said. 'That's really something,'?" she said, recounting her son's reaction.
Paul Chimera, sitting nearby, interjected: "You potentially saved someone's life."