Obituary: Dr. Heimlich; invented 1st aid for choking

Hector Diaz, a third grader at Golden Gate Elementary School in Naples, Florida, was recognized on December 5 in a “Do the Right Thing” ceremony in Collier County for performing the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge a bit of food that was choking a classmate as he ate lunch earlier this year. Hector had seen the maneuver on TV and didn’t hesitate, while other students went to bring adults to the cafeteria.


(American Red Cross)

Today, Dr Henry J Heimlich, the man who developed the Heimlich maneuver, died at Christ Hospital in Cincinnati after suffering a heart attack at his home on December 12, the New York Times reports. He was 96.

The maneuver has been taught in schools, on posters inside restaurants, and on TV, and it has saved untold thousands of lives every year since the American Red Cross and American Heart Association first recommended its use in the mid-1970s.

The exact number isn’t known, since many people rescued with the maneuver don’t report it; sometimes parents perform the maneuver, modified for infants, on their children right at the dinner table, breathe a sigh of relief, and just don’t make an official report for the sake of statistics.

The maneuver was at first dismissed, since it can result in injuries, such as broken ribs, if performed improperly. Then, between the mid-1980s and about 2005, it was recommended as the first defense against choking, but since about 2005, healthcare providers like the Mayo Clinic recommend giving five back blows first, then using the Heimlich maneuver, and then repeating those two until the food is dislodged and the person starts breathing again.

During his career, Dr Heimlich developed other procedures as well and holds a number of patents. But he is mainly known for the anti-choking “abdominal thrusts” used ubiquitously to save lives that would otherwise be lost during the everyday activity of eating dinner.

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Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.