The Slatest

Heimlich Inventor Uses His Maneuver on Actual Choking Victim for First Time (Update: Maybe Not)

Too Much Pressure
Dr. Henry Heimlich demonstrates his creation in 1985 in Boston, where he was attending an event honoring 53 people who successfully performed the maneuver to save choking victims.

Charles Krupa/AP Images

Update, June 3: It turns out that Heimlich has made contradictory claims in the past about when he used his maneuver on a real choking victim for the “first time.”

Original post, May 27: The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that 96-year-old Henry Heimlich, the thoracic surgeon who invented the Heimlich maneuver, was recently called into action for the first time in his life to use his technique on an active choking victim—an 87-year-old resident of his retirement home. From the Enquirer, quoting a Deupree House retirement home employee named Perry Gaines:

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When Gaines arrived at the table, Dr. Henry Heimlich, a 96-year-old resident of the Deupree House who invented the famous technique for clearing a blocked airway, was standing behind the woman, ready to perform it.

Typically, a staff member would do it. “But,” Gaines said, pausing, “it is Dr. Heimlich.”

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Heimlich, who swims and exercises regularly, was able to dislodge a piece of hamburger that had become stuck in 87-year-old Patty Ris’s airway.

Heimlich, who first published an article advocating the maneuver’s use in 1974, says that three pumps were required to dislodge the blockage.

Heimlich’s career has actually been quite a roller coaster; after he came to national prominence he made failed attempts to popularize something called “malaria therapy” and to promote the use of the Heimlich maneuver in drowning cases. For more on those subjects, read this crazy 2007 New Republic story by Jason Zengerle, which investigates an anonymous and seemingly unhinged individual’s attempt, in the early 2000s, to publicly discredit Heimlich’s work. And make sure you keep reading until Zengerle reveals the identity of the person making the attacks, because it is quite a twist!

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