Wednesday 20 September 2017

Henry Heimlich - surgeon who invented abdominal thrust

Surgeon's name is still used around the world - but fame resulted in family breakdown

Heimlich doing his manoeuvre on the actress and comedian Maria Gibbs Credit: Dan Callister/Getty Images
Heimlich doing his manoeuvre on the actress and comedian Maria Gibbs Credit: Dan Callister/Getty Images

Henry Heimlich, who has died aged 96, was a thoracic surgeon who devised a method for performing abdomen thrusts – the Heimlich manoeuvre – that became a standard lifesaving technique around the world; but his later career was dogged by accusations of fraud, with his own son among the most prominent critics.

When Heimlich began work as director of surgery at the Jewish Hospital in New York, at the end of the 1960s, choking remained one of the leading causes of accidental death. First aid textbooks recommended the age-old method of slapping the victim hard on the back. Other medical professionals had come up with novel instruments for emergency use, such as the “ChokeSaver” – a nine-inch pair of tweezers.

Heimlich, however, was after something less elaborate. He sedated beagles, put a tube down their throats and pressed on the animals' chests to see whether the obstruction could be dislodged. When that failed to work, he tried pushing up on the diaphragm. The chest cavities contracted and the tube shot out like a cork from a champagne bottle.

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