The family of a 20-year-old student who died three days after choking during a pancake-eating contest at Connecticut's Sacred Heart University said they will donate her organs. Caitlin Nelson, whose father was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks in Manhattan, died at a New York hospital on Sunday.
“Like her father, right up until the end she was giving of herself, and proof of that is her organs are all being donated,” Robert Egbert, a spokesman for the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association, told the New York Post. “She indicated throughout her life that she was an organ donor. Like her father, who gave everything he possibly could so others could live right up until the end, Caitlin just did the same thing.”
Nelson was participating in her sorority-sponsored charity event on March 30, when she reportedly began to shake uncontrollably and fell to the floor after eating four or five pancakes.
Two nursing students who witnessed Nelson choking during the charity event performed lifesaving measures before police officers and paramedics arrived, Fairfield police Lt. Bob Kalamaras, told The Associated Press.
“It’s a tragic event that started out as something fun,” he said. “It was just a tragic accident.”
Nelson, of Clark, N.J., was rushed to St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport, and on Friday was transferred to New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center where she later died. Kalamaras told The New York Daily News that Nelson suffered from food allergies, but it is not believed to have contributed to her death.
Nelson was a junior majoring in social work and was described to The New York Daily News by a police source as “full of life,” and “vibrant.”
“Her mom kept that kid focused on the straight and narrow,” the source told The Daily News. “To die for a charity eating pancakes after the dad went down is terribly sad. You worry about everything else that could go wrong with your kids and this happens.”
Thousands of students at the university held a candlelight vigil for Nelson on Sunday.
“The SHU community is mourning today,” the school said in a statement Monday. “We ask that during this time you give Caitlin’s family and the members of the SHU community privacy while they grieve.”
The school said counseling services were being provided. An obituary for her father, who was working as a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officer during the Sept. 11 terror attacks, indicated that Nelson has an older sister.
According to her LinkedIn page, Caitlin was certified in youth mental health first aid and volunteered at the Resiliency Center of Newtown, a nonprofit group that provides free counseling and other services to people affected by the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 20 children and six educators.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.