College Student Dies After Choking At Charity Pancake-Eating Competition

pancakes Shutterstock/Danny E Hooks

A 21-year-old student at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut died on Sunday after choking during a pancake-eating contest.

The student, Caitlin Nelson, was participating in a Greek life charity event when the freak accident occurred, reports the Connecticut Post.

Witnesses say Nelson, a junior at Sacred Heart, consumed four or five pancakes before she started choking.

Nelson suffered from several food allergies, police say, and these allergies may have contributed to the choking episode.

The pancake-eating contest occurred on Thursday evening.

A Sacred Heart nursing student performed CPR on Nelson, after she began choking and while waiting for paramedics to arrive.

The first police officer on the scene attempted to clear food lodged in Nelson’s throat. She was initially taken to St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport, Connecticut. On Friday, Nelson was transferred to Columbia University Medical Center.

Nelson’s father, James Nelson, died trying to evacuate people during the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks. He was on the 21st floor of one of the towers when it collapsed, the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association told the Post.

Caitlin Nelson was five years old at the time.

“My heart is broken for Caitlin’s family,” Paul Nunziato, president of the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association, told the New York Daily News.

James Nelson had also participated in rescue efforts during the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

The street where Caitlin Nelson grew up in Clark, New Jersey — James Nelson Way — was named in honor of her heroic father.

Caitlin Nelson was a social work major at Sacred Heart. She enrolled at the 8,532-student Catholic school in Fairfield, Connecticut under a scholarship program designed for the children of people who died during the September 11 attacks.

She was also a volunteer at the Resiliency Center, a Newtown, Connecticut nonprofit which assists people suffering in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

“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,” Nunziato told the Daily News.

Nelson’s vital organs have already been collected for donation purposes.

Thousands of Sacred Heart students attended a candlelight vigil at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit.

“The whole mood is pretty somber on campus right now,” sophomore Kevin Carlson told CBS New York.

Gary McNamara, the chief of police in Fairfield, said Nelson’s death has been hard on police officers as well.

“Learning the tragedy that touched this family already,” McNamara told the Post, “our officers are certainly affected by this.”

An autopsy into the exact causes of Nelson’s death is pending.

Sacred Heart flew its flags at half-mast on Monday.

Follow Eric on TwitterLike Eric on Facebook. Send education-related story tips to