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(February 3, 1920 - )
Born in the United States
Year of Discovery: 1974
His Lifesaving Maneuver Saves Choking Victims
Henry Heimlich, an American Thoracic surgeon, should receive a pat on the back for his life saving discovery - but don't make it a slap on the back! Heimlich developed his famous technique because he believed back slaps were not only ineffective, but potentially dangerous. As recently as the early 1970s, choking was the sixth leading cause of accidental death. When Heimlich read these statistics in the New York Times, he became so alarmed that he immediately began work on a technique to prevent choking deaths.
Heimlich believed slapping choking victims on the back might actually push the object deeper into their chest, making it worse. He wondered whether the chest could create enough pressure on its own to eject the stuck object. But, his research soon showed him the chest could not create the needed pressure-unless assisted by additional pressure from the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a dome shaped sheet of muscle that extends across the bottom of the rib cage. It contracts to help us fill our lungs with air, and then expands to help us empty our lungs of air during normal breathing.
Heimlich first reported on the details of his technique in 1974. Originally called the ‘Abdominal Thrust Maneuver,' the technique allowed someone to apply pressure to a choking victim's diaphragm. This pressure then forced air against the object, dislodging it from the throat. The action is similar to how the pressure of a fizzy drink forces the cap or cork from a bottle. Soon after his data was released, Heimlich started receiving reports about how it was already saving lives. The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) was so impressed with the technique they re-named it the Heimlich Maneuver.
In addition to being a lifesaving researcher, Heimlich has many personal celebrity connections. Several stars have been saved by his maneuver, including Elizabeth Taylor, Ronald Reagan and Cher. In addition, his wife Jane is the daughter of dancer Arthur Murray and his nephew is Anson Williams, of Happy Days.
Is Henry Heimlich a Saint? Or a Scoundrel?
While the Heimlich Maneuver is widely accepted and has saved many lives, Henry Heimlich and the co-discoverer of the method, Edward Patrick, wallow in controversy. It appears that having tasted success and wide public acclaim with the Heimlich Maneuver, each wanted continued acclaim--possibly at the cost of sound scientific method. It is this accusation, that they promoted other lifesaving techniques that do not work, that has most damaged the pair's reputations.
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Key Experiment or Research
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Science Discovery Timeline
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The Heimlich Institute website:
Peter Heimlich's website (Outmaneuvered) criticizing his father's work:
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The Science Behind the Discovery
This is the Heimlich Maneuver:
1. From behind, wrap your arms around the victim's waist
2. Make a fist and place the thumb side of your fist against the victim's upper abdomen, below the ribcage and above the navel
3. Grasp your fist with your other hand and press into their upper abdomen with a quick upward thrust. Do not squeeze the ribcage; confine the force of the thrust to your hands. Repeat until the object is expelled
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