Creator of lifesaving technique Henry Heimlich pens memoir

Surgeon who created lifesaving technique defends his divisive approach to medicine

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 February, 2014, 9:22pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 February, 2014, 9:22pm

The surgeon who wrote the book on saving choking victims through his namesake Heimlich manoeuvre has now penned a new book at the age of 94: his memoir.

Dr Henry Heimlich's views on how the manoeuvre should be used and on other innovations he has created or proposed have put him at odds with some in the health field. But he hopes his memoir will preserve the technique that has cleared obstructions from windpipes of choking victims around the world for four decades, and made his name a household word.

"I know the manoeuvre saves lives, and I want it to be used and remembered," the retired chest surgeon said. "I felt I had to have it down in print so the public will have the correct information."

Much of his autobiography - Heimlich's Manoeuvres: My 70 Years of Lifesaving Innovation - focuses on the manoeuvre, which involves thrusts to the abdomen that apply upward pressure on the diaphragm to create an air flow, forcing food or other objects out of the windpipe.

Heimlich says thousands of deaths reported annually from choking prompted him in 1972 to seek a solution. Over the next two years, leading a team of researchers at Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati, he successfully tested the technique on a dog.

"By 1974, I knew I needed to get the manoeuvre to the public as soon as possible to save lives," he said.

The manoeuvre made headlines again this month. Clint Eastwood was attending a golf event in California when the 83-year-old actor saw the tournament director choking on a piece of cheese and successfully performed the technique.

"The best thing about it is that it allows anyone to save a life," Heimlich said.

Heimlich does not approve of American Red Cross guidelines calling for back blows followed by abdominal thrusts in choking cases that don't involve infants or unconscious victims. He says blows can drive obstructions deeper into a windpipe.

Heimlich has drawn sharp criticism for his theory that injecting patients with a curable form of malaria could trigger immunity in patients with the HIV virus that causes Aids. Medical experts have criticised Heimlich for conducting studies involving malariotherapy on HIV patients in China.

"I'll be the first to admit that a number of my ideas are controversial and in some ways unorthodox," he said. "But I have enough guts to know that when I am right, it will come about as the thing to do, even if others do the wrong thing for a time."


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