Henry Heimlich, MD, a thoracic surgeon who invented an anti-choking maneuver that saved an untold number of lives, died today at age 96 of complications from a heart attack earlier in the week.
The maneuver that bears his name made Dr Heimlich a celebrity. However, he left his mark with other innovations, such as the Heimlich Chest Drain Valve, credited with saving thousands of US soldiers shot in the chest. He also developed the Micro-Trach, which delivers oxygen into the lungs through a narrow breathing tube inserted into the trachea.
Dr Heimlich put the number of people saved from choking to death by the Heimlich maneuver, introduced in 1974, as high as 100,000. It is performed by wrapping one’s arms around the victim’s waist, placing a fist thumb-side just under the ribcage and between the lungs, and thrusting it upward to dislodge an airway obstruction with a burst of expelled air. A roll-call of celebrities who underwent the maneuver include President Ronald Reagan, Cher, Halle Berry, Carrie Fisher, Nicole Kidman, and TV journalist John Chancellor, according to the physician’s website. Dr Heimlich applied his own technique perhaps twice himself, including just last May on a choking woman at a Cincinnati retirement center where they both lived.
Born in Wilmington, Delaware, Dr Heimlich received his medical degree from Weill Cornell Medical College in 1943. He and his late wife Jane Murray, daughter of dance school operator Arthur Murray, had four children.