Henry Heimlich
(February 3, 1920 - December 17, 2016)
Born in the United States
Year of Discovery: 1974

heimlich 071 13His 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.

Written by science writer, April Ingram

Lives Saved:  Over  600,000

Heimlich's creative title to his original Emergency Medicine article announcing his discovery: Pop Goes the Café Coronary.
Heimlich first tested his procedure on Beagles.
Some medical groups disparage the concept of heroes, so want to call Heimlich's maneuver - Abdominal Thrusts.

Youtube Video on How to perform the Heimlich Maneuver
EmergencyPhysicians.org Instructions on How to Perform the Heimlich Maneuver
  • If the person can speak, cough or breathe, do not interfere.
  • If the person cannot speak, cough or breathe, give abdominal thrusts known as the Heimlich Maneuver.
  • To employ the Heimlich Maneuver, reach around the person’s waist. Position one clenched fist above the navel and below the rib cage. Grasp your fist with your other hand. Pull the clenched fist sharply and directly backward and upward under the rib cage six to 10 times quickly.
Unconscious Adult
  • Position the person on his or her back, arms by side.
  • Shout for help. Call 911 or the local emergency number.
  • Perform a finger sweep to try to remove any foreign body from the mouth. Only remove an object you can see and easily extricate.
  • Listen for breathing and watch for the chest to rise and fall. If the person is not breathing, perform rescue breathing. If unsuccessful, give six to 10 abdominal thrusts (the Heimlich Maneuver). To perform abdominal thrusts on an unconscious person, kneel over the person and place the heel of one hand on the person’s abdomen, slightly above the navel. Next, place your other hand on top of the first. Press into the abdomen with quick, upward thrusts.
  • Repeat sequence: Perform finger sweep, attempt rescue breathing, perform abdominal thrusts, until successful.

Some Medical Organizations Suggest Five & Five
Five slaps to the back
If that doesn't work, five Heimlich Maneuvers

Links to More About the Scientist & the Science
Henry Heimlich's Oiriginal Quite Readable Medical Article Announcing the Procedure
Henry Heimlich's Wikipedia Page