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Heimlich, Henry

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Henry Heimlich

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Henry Heimlich
(February 3, 1920 - )
Born in the United States
Year of Discovery: 1974


Image Courtesy: Lasker FoundationHis 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.

It wasn't until 2000, at 80 years of age, that Heimlich actually had the opportunity to perform his technique on an actual choking victim. He describes hearing a ruckus in a restaurant, "I turned around to see a stranger choking. I did the Heimlich Maneuver, and got it out and then went on and had my lunch."

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.

Heimlich has said researching the mechanism of the technique was the easy part - the hardest part was making the technique so simple that anyone could use it. "Life is in your hands," he said.



Introduction by April Ingram


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.

Click on the image to the left to read an overview of the controversies. Is there a dark side to Henry Heimlich? Is Edward Patrick really who he claims to be? We encourage you investigate this fascinating tale of accusation and denial--then decide for yourself. You can cast your vote on the overview page to help us decide if these men are saints or scoundrels.



Table of Contents

Links to More Information About the Scientist
Key Insight
Key Experiment or Research
Quotes by the Scientist
Quotes About the Scientist
Fun Trivia About The Science
The Science Behind the Discovery
Personal Information
Key Contributing Scientists
Science Discovery Timeline
Recommended Books About the Science
Books by the Scientist
Books About the Scientist
Major Academic Papers
Curriculum Vitae
Links to Science and Related Information on the Subject


Links to More About the Scientist & the Science

The Heimlich Institute website:

Wikipedia entry:

Peter Heimlich's website (Outmaneuvered) criticizing his father's work:

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Key Insight

Key Experiments or Research

Quotes by the Scientist

Quotes About the Scientist


Fun Trivia About the Science

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

Personal Information

Key Contributing Scientists to the Discovery

Scientific Discovery Timeline

Recommended Books About the Science

Books by the Scientist

Books About the Scientist



Major Academic Papers Written by the Scientist

Curriculum Vitae

Links to Information on the Science