Team 10: Woman says she choked on metal spring at Cheesecake Factory

Posted at 5:59 PM, Jul 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-26 20:59:33-04

A San Diego woman says she almost died during a dinner out at the Cheesecake Factory in Fashion Valley.

"I felt something lodged in my throat and I start choking," said Natalie Licheli.

That's the moment Licheli's life changed.

She says the November 2014 night began as a relaxing dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, the family's favorite restaurant at the Mission Valley-area shopping center.

"We went there -- my husband, my son and me -- and we had a lovely dinner," she said.

Licheli says her son ordered the chicken caesar salad, but like most kids he didn't finish, so she started picking at the lettuce from his plate.

While swallowing a bite of the food, she realized something wasn't right.

"Could not breathe and I turned blue," she said. "Tried to cough as hard as I could, my body was going back and forth."

Licheli says a piece of a metal spring popped out, but there wasn't relief. The piece was only part of the spring.

"When I was coughing, I thought that was the end," she said. "I felt like I am dying. That's how easy people die. You know, it was scary."

Licheli says emergency crews raced her to the hospital, but her airway felt tighter by the minute.

She said the nightmare lasted 45 minutes until the rest of the spring finally came free. She was treated at the hospital and later released.

More than a year later, Licheli says the physical and emotional scars from that dinner are still present.

When she showed 10News the spring, her hands were shaking.

Licheli says every time she eats she needs to be able to see what's on the plate, and she has problems sleeping at night.

"I wake up [feeling] like I can't breathe, and then these traumatic flashbacks," she says.

Licheli argues the Cheesecake Factory isn't taking her injuries seriously.

She's filed a lawsuit against the restaurant.

"They wouldn't even pay for her ambulance bill," said attorney David Simon.

Licheli says she hasn't been back to the Cheesecake Factory.

Despite it all, she's thankful for one thing.

"I always thank God that I got this thing, not my son," she said. "Imagine that my child would die or something in front of me. I would prefer to die."

10News emailed a media contact listed for the Cheesecake Factory Monday morning. After not getting a response by late Monday afternoon, 10News called the listed public relations company for the restaurant, reached out to the San Diego eatery allegedly involved and filed an online form on the Cheesecake Factory's website.

We have not heard back, but when we do, we'll let you know what they said.