Saving a Life Can Be Easy if You Know How

Choking prevention is a reality thanks to Dr. Henry Heimlich

Choking can be an incredibly scary, life-altering experience. If you’ve ever been in that position, you won’t soon forget the person who came to your rescue.

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For countless individuals around the globe, one of those heroes will always be Dr. Henry Heimlich — the man who created what we have known since 1974 as the Heimlich Maneuver. News of Heimlich’s death on Saturday has everyone from choking survivors and their family members to first responders reflecting on the late thoracic surgeon’s life and legacy. The 96-year-old died Saturday in Cincinnati due to complications from a massive heart attack.

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The Heimlich Maneuver calls for any rescuer to stand behind a choking victim, apply the thumb-side of a fist to a spot just above the person’s navel, grasp the fist with the other hand, and press hard into the abdomen with a quick, upward thrust. The surge of air from the lungs should expel any blockage. It is an easy-to-learn procedure often taught as part of basic first aid.

Heimlich developed the technique after reading about the high rate of deaths in restaurants that first were attributed to heart attacks — but later found to be caused by choking.

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Heimlich believed anyone could be a hero if they simply knew what to do: The maneuver requires no equipment, no great strength, and only minimal training.

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In 1986, it was officially recommended as the primary anti-choking technique by the Red Cross, although the organization reversed that decision in 2006, saying “abdominal thrusts” should only be a secondary method, as Reuters reported. Back blows are currently the first recommended response to a choking situation.

It’s interesting to note that Heimlich developed the technique out of concern that repeatedly slapping someone on the back — the most common way of trying to help a choking victim at the time — might force a blockage deeper into the lungs.

To prove his theory, Heimlich, who was at the Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati at the time, took anesthetized lab dogs, blocked their windpipes with hunks of meat attached to strings in case of emergency, and developed the technique.

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Heimlich also invented a valve that bears his name and is used to prevent air from filling the chest cavity in trauma cases.

He and Jane Murray, the daughter of dance school magnate Arthur Murray, were married from 1951 until her death in 2012. The couple together had four children.

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All this talk about Heimlich and his legacy, by the way, may provide the perfect opportunity to talk with family and friends about what to do in the event someone is choking. The National Safety Council reports that choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional injury death — young children are most at risk and it’s quite common.

Nearly 4,900 deaths were attributed to choking in 2014. Knowing how to save a life might take only a few moments of refreshing your knowledge.

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