The Slatest

At Least Part of Last Week’s Charming Viral Heimlich-Maneuver Story Was Bogus

Dr. Henry Heimlich.

Screen shot/Cincinnati Enquirer

Last week I wrote about the story, reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer and others, of Heimlich-maneuver inventor Henry Heimlich having performed his signature windpipe-blockage response on an actual real-life choking victim for the first time ever. (Dr. Heimlich is now 96 and lives in a retirement home where the event is said to have taken place.) I also linked to a very interesting 2007 piece in the New Republic about Heimlich’s long history of exaggerations and dubious claims about other medical subjects. Turns out that I should have taken that piece to heart and done a little more research on the “first time” story: The Cincinnati Enquirer now notes that Heimlich has previously made the exact same claim about an incident that was said to have taken place in 2001 at a private club in Cincinnati. From the Enquirer:

Heimlich told The Enquirer Thursday his encounter with Patty Ris at the Deupree House senior living facility, where they both live, was the first time he ever performed it on a person needing immediate aid. However, several published reports in the early 2000s from news outlets ranging from the BBC to the Chicago Sun-Times show interviews with Heimlich describing himself using the maneuver. In one interview, he said he helped a man at the former private dining club, the Banker’s Club, in Downtown Cincinnati in 2001.

From the 2003 BBC piece:

But despite being the inventor of one of the most significant medical techniques, Dr Heimlich told BBC News Online that he has only been called upon once to carry it out himself - and that was just three years ago.

“I was in this club restaurant eating when I heard someone calling Dr Heimlich. I turned around and saw a man choking so I did the Heimlich Manoeuvre and got it out and then went on and had my lunch.”

Hmm. This Wednesday, perhaps not coincidentally given Henry Heimlich’s history as a self-promoter, was National Heimlich Maneuver Day.

Both the ostensible choking victim in the recent retirement-home incident (Patty Ris) and another witness vouched that Heimlich had performed the dislodging procedure, although Ris’ testimony was made public through a public relations firm rather than a direct interview with a reporter. Whatever actually happened at the retirement home, it appears that the actual final step in the Heimlich maneuver might be boondoggling the press.