The man who pioneered the Heimlich maneuver recently saved a woman’s life by using his namesake technique. This is the first time he has actually performed the maneuver in a real-life emergency.
Dr. Henry Heimlich's fateful moment occurred at the communal dining room in Deupree House retirement home in Cincinnati on Monday, May 23. The Cincinnati Inquirer reports that a woman, fellow resident Patty Ris, starting choking on a piece of hamburger. Naturally, the now 96-year-old retired chest surgeon rushed to her aid.
“I did the Heimlich maneuver – of course,” Heimlich told The Guardian. “She was going to die if she wasn’t treated. I did it, and a piece of food with some bone in it flew out of her mouth.”
“That moment was very important to me," he added. "I knew about all the lives my maneuver has saved over the years and I have demonstrated it so many times but here, for the first time, was someone sitting right next to me who was about to die."
This was the first time Dr. Heimlich had ever used the technique in an emergency, some 42 years after he developed it. In 2003, the BBC reported that Heimlich had used the technique to a save a choking diner, however both Heimlich and his son have denied this ever happened.
In 1974, Heimlich published the results of his experiments with anti-choking techniques in a paper called “Pop Goes the Café Coronary” in the journal Emergency Medicine. His technique was developed by feeding beagle dogs large chunks of meat to induce them to choke. It took Heimlich a fair bit of trial-and-error to develop the right technique, but eventually he realized exerting short and sharp thrusts of pressure just below the ribcage induced the subject to expel any foreign object from their upper airway. The maneuver quickly made its way into newspapers, and hundreds of success stories followed shortly after.
Heimlich’s talents aren’t limited to developing this abdominal maneuver, either. He also designed a valve that allows doctors to drain blood, fluids, or air from chest cavities and a Micro Trach portable oxygen system to administer oxygen to patients.
Since the seventies, it’s thought the Heimlich maneuver has saved hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide. Among these are Ronald Reagan, Cher, and Carrie Fisher.