College Student Dies After Choking at Pancake Eating Contest

A competitive eating contest takes a turn for the worst

Thousands of people attended the candle vigil for Nelson.

Caitlin Nelson, a 20-year-old college student at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, died at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center three days after choking on pancakes during an eating contest on March 30, according to the Associated Press. Nelson, originally from Clark, New Jersey, was a junior social work major and a member of the Kappa Delta sorority.

According to witnesses, Nelson was participating in the Greek life event when she began choking after consuming four or five pancakes, the New York Post reported. Nursing students at the event began performing CPR until paramedics arrived at the scene.

“Our officers were on the scene quickly,” Gary MacNamara, chief of the Fairfield Police Department, told People. “They recognized the gravity of the situation immediately and desperately and heroically tried to clear her airway. Tragically, the obstruction was not easily cleared and that lack of oxygen for that amount of time ultimately caused severe damage.”

Thousands gathered at a service at the university to mourn the loss of a member of its community. School officials said that counseling services were provided to students.

Across the country, a man also died this weekend after participating in an eating contest at Voodoo Doughnuts in Denver, Colorado, 9News reported.

Travis Malouff was participating in the doughnut shop’s “Tex-Ass Challenge," which requires participants to eat a large doughnut (equivalent to six regular-sized doughnuts) in 80 seconds in exchange for a free meal.

According to the Denver Office of the Medical Examiner, Malouff died from “asphyxia, due to obstruction of the airway.”


Competitive eating competitions not only pose potential choking hazards, but can also have adverse health effects for regular competitors, according to Forbes. Other potential health risks include hyponatremia (a drop in the level of salt in the blood stream) and seizures from water intoxication.