Friday, Feb. 6, 2004 | 11:23 a.m.
Former U.S. Sen. Chic Hecht of Nevada is a staunch Republican, but he thanks his lucky stars for Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.
On July 12, 1988, Hecht was attending a weekly Republican luncheon when a piece of apple lodged firmly in his throat.
Hecht stumbled out of the room, thinking he might vomit but not wanting to do it in front of his colleagues. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., thumped his back, but Hecht quickly passed out in the hallway.
Just then, Kerry stepped off an elevator, rushed to Hecht's side and gave him the Heimlich maneuver -- four times.
The lifesaving incident made international news, and Dr. Henry Heimlich, who invented the maneuver in 1974, called Hecht to say that had Kerry intervened just 30 seconds later Hecht might have been in a vegetative state for life.
"This man gave me my life," the 75-year-old Hecht said Thursday.
Hecht said he was amazed that Kerry acted so quickly -- some people were assuming that he was having a heart attack.
"He knew exactly what to do," he said. "But a lot of people know what to do. They just don't size up the situation immediately."
The story has a twist of irony: Hecht was up for re-election that year, and Kerry, who was serving as the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, had pegged Hecht as one of the most vulnerable Republican seats.
Indeed, the Democratic nominee for Hecht's seat, then-Gov. Richard Bryan, beat Hecht, who served just one term in office.
"Only in America can this happen, where he's working against me to get me defeated and then saves my life," Hecht said.
Hecht, who prides himself on having one of the most conservative records on the books during his six years in the Senate, said he and his wife, Gail, see politics as "a secondary issue" when it comes to Kerry.
"We've had a wonderful life, and it would have all been down the tubes," said Hecht, who is about to celebrate his 45th wedding anniversary with his wife.
Every year the Hechts call Kerry's longtime personal secretary, who tracks down Kerry wherever he is.
Then they recount some of their experiences in the last year. Hecht and his wife thank Kerry for thinking so quickly in the Senate halls that day. And Kerry tells them that their phone call is one of his favorites of the year.
"He's so nice and appreciative," Hecht said.
This year Kerry was taking a day's vacation from campaigning, and he told them that he thought his campaign was finally gaining momentum.
Some of the Hechts hope so. Both of Hecht's daughters have attended Kerry events, and Gail Hecht hopes to travel to California the next time Kerry is there to voice her support, Hecht said.
Still, Hecht points out that he and Gail have given the maximum possible contribution to President Bush's campaign ($2,000 each). Hecht, a longtime businessman and banker, served as President George H.W. Bush's ambassador to the Bahamas.
Soon after the Iowa caucuses, a former Los Angeles county deputy sheriff and Republican Jim Rassmann stood with Kerry at an event to tell the story of when Kerry saved his life in the jungles of Vietnam.
Rassmann, a Green Beret, was ambushed along Bay Hap river, but Kerry, who also had been injured in the attack, grabbed Rassmann's arm and pulled him to safety, according to Kerry's website.
On Wednesday, Roll Call wrote a story about Hecht's incident. So far, Kerry hasn't asked Hecht to appear at a campaign event, but Hecht said he would if he were asked.
Hecht won't, however, say who he would vote for in November if Kerry wins the Democratic nomination.
"Only the Good Lord and myself will know how I'm going to vote," he said.