Heimlich, of famed manoeuvre, dies at 96

Dr Heimlich invented the procedure in 1974. The thoracic surgeon also developed mechanical aids for chest surgery.
Dr Heimlich invented the procedure in 1974. The thoracic surgeon also developed mechanical aids for chest surgery.

WASHINGTON • Dr Henry Heimlich, the thoracic surgeon who gave his name to a famous technique that has saved the lives of countless choking victims, has died at age 96.

Dr Heimlich died at a nursing home in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Saturday following a heart attack.

He invented the Heimlich manoeuvre in 1974 after seeing people choke and even die in restaurants.

The many people whose lives have thus been saved include former United States president Ronald Reagan and actresses Marlene Dietrich and Elizabeth Taylor.

Dr Heimlich himself employed the manoeuvre a few months ago to save the life of a fellow retiree at his nursing home, an 87-year-old woman.

No one knows how many lives have been saved by the procedure, although reported choking deaths declined after its popularisation.

The Heimlich Institute claims that 50,000 lives have been saved in the US alone. A 2009 op-ed article in The New York Times estimated that 100,000 people had been rescued from choking.

While best known for the technique, Dr Heimlich developed and held patents for a score of medical innovations and devices, including mechanical aids for chest surgery that were widely used during the Vietnam War, procedures for treating chronic lung disease and methods for helping stroke victims relearn how to swallow.

But he was also the centre of controversy more than once.

He advocated the use of the manoeuvre for other purposes - to save drowning victims or to help asthma sufferers - that never gained a following. And in his later years, he advocated exposing Aids victims to malaria, a treatable disease, to boost their resistance.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2016, with the headline 'Heimlich, of famed manoeuvre, dies at 96'. Print Edition | Subscribe