The Man Behind the Maneuver

The Man Behind the Maneuver

February 3, 1920 - Henry Heimlich was born on this day. He is credited with popularizing the abdominal thrust method to clear blocked airways in choking victims.

Heimlich was a very interesting character. Did you know he was married to the daughter of Arthur Murray (the dance school guy)? He also had a son named Peter who spent a lot of time railing against his father's "wide-ranging, unseen 50-year history of fraud." Harsh.

Whatever the case, it was Heimlich's 1974 article, "Pop Goes the Cafe Coronary," that started a rethinking of the standard response to choking cases. Up until then the prescribed method was to start pounding on the victim's back.

The American Red Cross and other organizations started recommending a combination of back blows and Heimlich maneuvers. Eventually the method and Heimlich's name became very well known. Thousands of lives have been saved by the gut-wrenching move.

But Heimlich was no stranger to controversy. Many protested his advocacy for a treatment known as malariotherapy. Basically the idea was to intentionally infect someone with malaria as a treatment for cancer, Lyme disease and even HIV. Pretty much every reasonable observer considered this an insanely bad idea. The Center for Disease Control and others have expressed serious concerns.

In 2006 when the American Red Cross revised its recommendations for how to deal with choking victims, the guidelines didn't mention the name Heimlich anymore, and they returned to an earlier methodology that combined back blows with abdominal thrusts as the prescribed treatment for conscious victims.

It's worth noting that Heimlich's anti-choking maneuver was just one of many positive contributions he made to the world. He invented a flutter valve that drains air and blood from the chest cavity, and allows collapsed lungs to re-expand. During the Vietnam war this little gadget saved hundreds of lives.

He also pioneered something called the Micro Trach portable oxygen system, which was a breakthrough way of helping some very sick people breathe more easily.

But his name will always be synonymous with the maneuver. According to Heimlich, there were two times in his life when he administered the move himself. The first time was on a man choking in a restaurant in 2003. The second instance was in 2016, when Heimlich saved a woman who lived in his senior living facility. 6 months later Heimlich died of heart attack. He was 96 years old.

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