FARMINGTON — The pills went down easy, but when a surprise piece of plastic mixed in with her medication got lodged in Elaine Dean's throat, she started to panic.

Dean, a 72-year-old Bloomfield woman, was on a weekend camping trip at the Elks Campground near Navajo Dam on September 9 when she started choking. She was alone and cleaning up after breakfast.

"It was a daily routine. You take your vitamins," Dean said. "I thought to myself 'I'm going to die right here. I don't know what to do.'"

She ran from her trailer and Paul Peerenboom, who was staying in the cabin next door, was the first person to see her. He quickly grabbed her and started to do abdominal thrusts, which can also be referred to as the Heimlich maneuver.

"He could tell my face was changing color and he grabbed me and got this little plastic thing to come up," she said. "When he saw me he instantly knew what was wrong."

Dean quickly coughed up the plastic. She said she can still vividly remember the feeling of oxygen returning to her body after she had been deprived of it.

Dean credits Peerenboom with saving her life and hopes her story will get more people to learn life-saving techniques like abdominal thrusts and CPR.

"There should be more people that's willing to do what he did," she said. "And I also need to learn how to save a life. Because I needed some help really bad and Paul didn't need to ask questions. He knew what to do instantly."

Peerenboom, who lives in Kirtland, said he learned in the military how to act fast and respond quickly to emergencies.

"You would want somebody to help you if you were in that situation," he said. "Hopefully somebody surrounding you would recognize what was happening and be able to respond and react to it."

Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and rboetel@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.