Dr. Henry Heimlich has saved countless lives with his invention of the Heimlich Maneuver in the 1970s. However, all of those life-saving acts had been performed by others who learned the well-known technique developed by Dr. Heimlich all those years ago, and he hadn’t had the opportunity to do the maneuver himself — until now.
The 96-year-old retired thoracic surgeon finally had the chance to use the emergency maneuver that, until Monday, he had only demonstrated many times during his career. Dr. Heimlich was able to save the life of a fellow senior living facility resident, who happened to be sitting right next to him at dinner.
— New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) May 27, 2016
Dr. Heimlich had made his regular evening visit to the dining room when 87-year-old Patty Ris began choking on a piece of hamburger. Perry Gaines, a maître d’ who is trained in the Heimlich Maneuver, ran to the table ready to take action but he saw that Dr. Heimlich had already taken charge of the emergency situation.
Gaines explained to the Cincinnati Enquirer that normally, a staff member would perform the maneuver, “But, it is Dr. Heimlich,” he said.
Patty Ris was able to recover quickly after Dr. Heimlich used his famous technique to clear the food that was obstructing her airway. She said in an interview that she had no idea that she was sitting next to the inventor of the Heimlich Maneuver.
Ris explained that she is a newer resident at the facility and doesn’t yet have anyone she regularly sits with at meal times. She said she ordered her hamburger, picked a table to sit at, and the next thing she knew, she was choking and unable to breathe.
After the scary incident, she wrote Dr. Heimlich a thank-you letter, saying, “God put me in this seat next to you.”
Dr. Heimlich said his experience saving Patty Ris allowed him to reflect on all the lives the maneuver has saved over the years.
“When I used it, and she recovered quickly, it made me appreciate how wonderful it has been to be able to save all those lives.”
Dr. Heimlich’s son, Phil, said his father often meets people who have saved a life using the Heimlich Maneuver or who have been saved by it. Phil said the fact that his father could perform his technique at his age is “impressive.”
A spokesperson for the senior living facility said Dr. Heimlich, who has resided there for about six years, is very active for a 96-year-old. He still swims and exercises regularly.
On his official website, Dr. Henry Heimlich explains that what makes the maneuver so special is the fact that it is simple and “accessible to everyone.” The fact that he performed it at the age of 96 proves that his statement is true. He promises that anyone willing to learn has the ability to save someone’s life in an emergency.
“What makes the Heimlich Maneuver particularly special is this: it is accessible to everyone. Because of its simplicity—and the fact that it works when performed correctly—just about anyone can save a life. Each of us can save the life of a stranger, a neighbor, a spouse, or a child. And it can happen anywhere—in restaurants, homes, ballparks—you name it. You see, you don’t have to be a doctor to save a life. You just have to have knowledge and the instinct to respond in a crisis.”
Even children can learn to save lives with the Heimlich Maneuver. Heimlich Heroes is an organization dedicated to teaching Dr. Henry Heimlich’s life-saving technique to children. The organization’s blog and social media accounts are filled with stories of real-life kid heroes who have saved lives after learning the Heimlich Maneuver.
Dr. Heimlich helps explain more about Heimlich Heroes in the video below.
You can find step-by-step instructions on how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver on Dr. Heimlich’s website.
[Photo by Al Behrman/AP Images]