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Student At Area College Dies After Choking In Pancake-Eating Contest

Caitlin Nelson
Caitlin Nelson Photo Credit: Facebook
Students at Sacred Heart University hold a candlelight vigil Sunday night after the death of a classmate.
Students at Sacred Heart University hold a candlelight vigil Sunday night after the death of a classmate. Photo Credit: Sacred Heart University via Facebook

A student at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., died Sunday after she apparently choked during a pancake-eating contest Thursday night at the college, according to a Facebook post from SHU.

Students at SHU gathered for a candlelight vigil Sunday night on the campus in memory of Caitlin Nelson, a 21-year-old from New Jersey.

"Caitlin Nelson was rushed to the hospital Thursday evening after a medical event during a Greek Life event," Sacred Heart President John J. Petillo, Ph.D., wrote in an email to parents of Sacred Heart students. "She passed away ... and is now with her father, who was a victim of the 9-11 attacks.

"In case you have not heard about this from your son or daughter, I wanted you to aware that this has happened. I am guessing you may want to connect with him or her during this difficult time."

The SHU Facebook page — which posted a photo and a "We.Are.SHU" message — was filled with words of love and support for the student and her family.

"Love and prayers go out to the SHU family but most especially to the family and close friends. Heaven has another angel," said one post.

"So heartbreaking. Sending much love and peace to [her] family and all of the SHU community," another post said.

"So terribly sad. Heaven has gained another angel too soon. My prayers go out to [her] family. May she rest in the sweetest peace," said another post.

The student had eaten four or five pancakes in the contest, held at a Greek Life dinner on the college’s University Commons, when she began to shake and fell to the floor, according to the Fairfield Citizen.

She spit out pancake but was still choking, the Citizen said. A nursing student began CPR, while others attempted to use the Heimlich maneuver and began pulling food from her throat, the Fairfield Citizen said.

"The entire Sacred Heart community is sending their sympathy and prayers to Caitlin’s family and friends," Petillo wrote in the email to Sacred Heart parents. "She was remembered at a filled-to-capacity Mass and candlelight vigil ... and we have lowered the SHU flag to half-staff in her memory.

"Counseling services have already been provided, in particular for Caitlin’s sorority sisters. The Chapel will remain open with staff from campus ministry on hand to talk if needed. Counseling services will continue to be available for all members of the SHU community who may need them over the next few days.

"No parent should ever have to receive news like this. I ask for your prayers for Caitlin’s mother, family and friends."

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