At 96, doc saves a life with own technique

Dr Henry Heimlich with Madam Patty Ris, 87, the woman he saved with his manoeuvre after she choked on food. She was having her meal at the same table as Dr Heimlich at a senior centre in Cincinnati.
Dr Henry Heimlich with Madam Patty Ris, 87, the woman he saved with his manoeuvre after she choked on food. She was having her meal at the same table as Dr Heimlich at a senior centre in Cincinnati.PHOTO: REUTERS

He does Heimlich Manoeuvre on fellow resident at senior centre after she chokes on hamburger

NEW YORK • Dr Henry Heimlich, the 96-year-old Cincinnati surgeon credited with inventing the life-saving technique named after him, used it for the first time last week to save a fellow senior centre resident who was choking on a hamburger, a centre spokesman said.

Dr Heimlich, who in multiple national television appearances had demonstrated the technique commonly known as the "Heimlich Manoeuvre" to dislodge food from an airway, had never employed it in an emergency, said spokesman Ken Paley.

But last week, Dr Heimlich, 96, said he got to do the real thing.

He used the abdomen-squeezing manoeuvre on Monday on an 87-year-old woman who was choking at their senior residence community in Cincinnati, popping a morsel of meat out of her mouth.

"I felt it was just confirmation of what I had been doing throughout my life," Dr Heimlich said in an interview on Friday.

After his swift move, a public relations team working for the parent company of the residence, Episcopal Retirement Services, snapped into action, recording and distributing video interviews with the doctor, the woman he saved and a dining room employee.

They also arranged media appearances promoting the claim that this was the first time the doctor had used the manoeuvre himself to save a life, although decade-old reports cast doubt on that.

Madam Patty Ris, the woman who had been saved, said in one of the videos that she found herself by chance at Dr Heimlich's table.

"I just sat down at a table," Madam Ris said.

"I ordered a hamburger, and the next thing I know, I could not breathe I was choking so hard."

Dr Heimlich said he turned left to start a conversation.

"I saw her face was all stiffened up and her skin was turning dark and she could not speak," he said.

"Of all things, I knew she was choking."

Dr Heimlich said he stood up and moved behind Ms Ris' chair, turning her slightly so her back was facing him across the armrest.

"I made a fist of my right hand - you can do it with either hand, by the way - and put my arms around her," he said.

He placed the thumb side of his fist just above her belly button and below the chest to compress the air in her lungs.

"I did it three times, and it apparently was pretty much done on the first time," said Dr Heimlich, who has lived in the 120-apartment complex for six years and swims regularly for exercise.

"When I wrote my 'thank you' note to him for saving my life, I said, 'God put me in that seat next to you, Dr Heimlich, because I was gone, I couldn't breathe at all'," Ms Ris said in another video interview shared by Mr Paley.

REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 29, 2016, with the headline 'At 96, doc saves a life with own technique'. Print Edition | Subscribe