Dr. Henry Heimlich Dead at 96

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Dr. Heimlich demonstrating his famous anti-choking technique on a volunteer in 1985. Photo: Charles Krupa/AP

Dr. Henry Heimlich, the thoracic surgeon and developer of one of the most famous lifesaving procedures of all time, the Heimlich maneuver, has died at the age of 96. The Heimlich maneuver, a widely learned and used anti-choking technique for ejecting an object that is blocking a person’s windpipe, is credited with having saved an estimated 100,000 people from choking to death since Dr. Heimlich came up with the procedure in 1974 (according to the Heimlich Institute).

The technique entails hugging a choking person from behind and then administering abdominal thrusts with your fists, which lift the diaphragm and use air in the lungs to eject the obstructing object. It is regularly taught to grade-school students and first responders alike, and instructions for applying the technique are typically displayed in public places like restaurants as well. Indeed, the maneuver is so widely known it has even become a regularly used plot device in films and television shows.

(It should be noted, however, that the American Red Cross recommends applying five back slaps to a choking person first, and only if those are ineffective, moving onto the abdominal thrusts. They also no longer refer to those thrusts as the Heimlich maneuver, because Dr. Heimlich — offended about the recommendation of back slaps, which he believed could lodge the foreign object deeper — asked the Red Cross to stop using his name in their first-aid instructions.)

The anti-choking maneuver was not Dr. Heimlich’s only medical contribution, either. He also invented a highly portable device for draining fluid from chest wounds, the Heimlich Chest Drain Valve, which was used on thousands of wounded American service members during the Vietnam War.

Dr. Heimlich died in a Cincinnati hospital on Saturday morning after having suffered a heart attack earlier in the week.

Dr. Henry Heimlich Dead at 96