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Dr. Henry Heimlich, Inventor of the ‘Heimlich Maneuver,’ Dies at 96
The Heimlich maneuver has been credited with saving an estimated 100,000 lives, and on Saturday the procedure’s inventor, Dr. Henry Heimlich, died at the age of 96, his family announced.
Heimlich had suffered a heart attack last Monday, and died at Christ Hospital in Cinncinnati, according to The New York Times.
Heimlich was born in 1920 in Wilmington, Del., and received his medical degree from Cornell Medical College in New York City in 1943. He developed the Heimlich maneuver — reaching around a choking victim from the back and thrusting up on the person’s abdomen to dislodge a throat obstruction — in the 1970s.
At the time, choking on food or foreign objects such as toys killed 4,000 people annually, the Times noted. The Heimlich maneuver was initially greeted with skepticism, but Heimlich reasoned that pushing upwards on the abdomen would force a reserve of air in the lungs to rush up through the windpipe and force any obstruction to pop out.
Real-life incidents — where everyday people saved nearby choking victims — proved the skeptics wrong. Soon the Heimlich maneuver became standard procedure nationwide.
Heimlich himself did not use his namesake maneuver to save a life until just this year, the Times noted. On May 23, he noticed an 87-year-old woman, Patty Ris, choking on a piece of food at the table she happened to be sharing with Heimlich at Duepree House, the senior residence where they both lived in Cinncinnati.
“I could not breathe I was choking so hard,” Ris told the Times.
Heimlich rushed to act, performing the maneuver. “A piece of meat with a little bone attached flew out of her mouth,” he said.
Heimlich was professor of clinical sciences at Xavier University in Cinncinnati and also president of the Heimlich Institute, which he set up to promote his ideas. According to the Times, he developed and held patents on many other medical devices and innovations, including methods of helping stroke victims re-learn to swallow, and mechanical devices used for chest surgery.