Anyone who has spent time on a college campus has seen the various silly events that take place. Some functions include Polar Bear Swims, adding another piece to the “Shoe Tree,” even a “Throwing of the Fish.” Some of these traditions and affairs highlight the totally idiotic fun that goes on at college campuses around the country.

Events like, say, a pancake eating contest are precisely the kind of event you’d expect to find on campus. Unfortunately, one such contest at Sacred Heart University turned from merriment to tragedy when a 20-year-old student choked to death.

Caitlin Nelson, a social work major at the Fairfield university, went into convulsions during the contest at a Greek Life charity dinner. After eating only four or five pancakes, Nelson fell to the floor and “started shaking uncontrollably,” according to her friends.


Only two minutes after the convulsions begun, a police officer, Lieutenant Robert Kalamaras, 42, had arrived and tried the Heimlich maneuver along with two other officers.

“We did what we could until paramedics arrived,” Kalamaras stated. “It was a tragic accident.”

Nelson was pronounced dead at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Columbia just three days later. The cause of death was “asphyxia due to obstruction of airway by bolus of food.” Her organs were donated shortly after.

Despite the immediate assistance by nursing students already on the scene, attempts to clear the airway by police officers just two minutes later, then hospitalization and a transfer to another facility, nothing could be done.


Nelson is survived by her older sister Anne and mother Roseanne. She lived in Clark, NJ, on James Nelson Way, a street named after her father, a police officer assigned to Port Authority who died on 9/11. “My heart is broken for Caitlin’s family,” stated Paul Nunziato, president of the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association. “Like her dad, who gave all he possibly could in the final moments of his life so others may live, Caitlin also gave all she could so others live.”

Nelson was, by all accounts, a lovely young woman who, inspired by her father, wanted to devote her life to charity. To suddenly die during something as innocent as a pancake eating contest is vexing. When you factor in all the dangerous and idiotic activities that college students get into, you don’t expect a charity pancake eating contest to be the one that involves the death of a student.

Her funeral was held today, April 7, at St. Helen’s Church in Westfield, NJ.