Bethesda Diner Sends $5,000 Holiday Cheer Check to Bartender Who Saved Him

Fast-acting restaurant worker performed Heimlich Maneuver on choking patron


A patron of Oakville Grille and Wine Bar in Bethesda sent $5,000 and a Christmas card to the bartender who saved him from choking.

Via Abby Ansari

A couple Saturdays ago in Bethesda, a 67-year-old man sat down to a steak dinner with his wife and two friends, picked up his knife and fork and began to eat.

He was about halfway through the Dec. 10 meal at Oakville Grille and Wine Bar when he took the bite that sent the restaurant into pandemonium.

An oversized piece of meat lodged in his throat, and no amount of coughing or back-slapping would clear his airway. Diners nearby started to panic as the man turned blue before their eyes, restaurant owner Abby Ansari said.  Staff called 911, but it was obvious that the medical assistance wouldn’t arrive in time.

“This is a really stupid way to die,” the Chevy Chase businessman remembers thinking before blacking out.

The man, who asked not to be identified, believes the only reason he’s still alive today is because of bartender Darko Stankovic. The former lifeguard jumped over the bar and performed a Heimlich Maneuver just in the nick of time. The diner walked away feeling so grateful that he later sent Stankovic, 29, a Christmas card.

Plus a check for $5,000.

“I know this is not necessary,” the card read. “I know it is not why you acted so calmly and competently. But I would not be having Christmas with my family if you had not acted.”

The man said that when he regained consciousness in the Wildwood Shopping Center restaurant, he was lying on the floor surrounded by people. Stankovic was calmly instructing him to breathe slowly and assuring him that everything would be OK.

The restaurant customer made such a fine recovery that he was able to return to his seat and polish off a bit more of his dinner. 

That night, the restaurant patron offered Stankovic a cash reward that the bartender turned down. Still feeling compelled to show his appreciation days later, the man mailed off the $5,000 check.

“I was hoping that the gift might help him have a good holiday, as well,” the man said.

Ansari finds significance in the incident’s timing; not only was it a week before the death of Henry Heimlich, the inventor of the anti-choking maneuver, but the $5,000 gift felt like a “Christmas miracle,” she said.

It was Ansari who opened the card and found the check inside. When she called Stankovic, who was out of town, the bartender was flabbergasted.

Ansari’s friends in the restaurant business have also been blown away by the diner’s generosity.

“Maybe they’re all going to go out of their way and do one more step of customer service,” Ansari said, laughing.

Back to Bethesda Beat

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