AKA Henry Jay Heimlich
Birthplace: Wilmington, DE
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Heimlich maneuver
Military service: US Naval Reserve (1944-46)
In 1974, Dr Henry Heimlich announced the maneuver which now carries his name. Before the Heimlich maneuver, when a person choked on food, it was generally thought that forcefully slapping the victim's back was helpful, but in reality slapping often causes the blockage to drop deeper into the throat, making the situation even worse. In an 1974 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Heimlich wrote that applying upward pressure to the diaphragm, under the choke point, might force the blockage to pop out, like a cork from a champagne bottle. Within weeks he began hearing from doctors who had used the maneuver to save lives, and within months Dr Heimlich and his Heimlich maneuver were famous.
As a US Navy surgeon in World War II, Heimlich saw numerous patients die on the operating table after being shot in the chest, when blood and air filled their chest cavities. The deaths bothered Heimlich for years, and in the early 1960s he devised a simple and inexpensive valve that could be quickly inserted through an injured patient's skin, to let the leakage escape.
In his later years, however, Heimlich's reputation has been called into question, and he is increasingly viewed as something of a nut in the medical community. There is no doubt that Dr Heimlich's innovations have saved thousands of lives, but there is doubt that some of the innovations were Dr Heimlich's.
For five years in the late 1990s, the Heimlich Maneuver was tested as a first response for drowning victims at several American amusement parks, including Disney and Six Flags parks. Critics have complained that the amusement park protocol amounted to using unwitting participants in life-or-death experiments. The Heimlich Maneuver's efficacy in drowning cases had been tested previously and remains disputed, with some evidence that it can actually cause harm, but Heimlich has continued to promote it as a rescue method for drowning victims. The American Red Cross, meanwhile, has quietly replaced the term "Heimlich maneuver" in its literature with the more generic term "abdominal thrusts."
Heimlich has also advocated and experimented with malariotherapy -- injecting AIDS patients with malaria-tainted blood, in hopes of inducing fever temperatures so high that the HIV virus is killed. Beginning in 1996, Heimlich conducted human experiments in China, where AIDS patients were given up to a dozen induced malaria fevers. Numerous experts have called his experiments dangerous, unnecessary, and "charlatanism of the highest order." Heimlich has also advocated malariotherapy as a possible cure for cancer and Lyme disease.
One of Heimlich's most outspoken critics is his son, Peter Heimlich, who maintains that his father did not invent the Heimlich Maneuver, but instead stole the idea from another doctor, Edward A. Patrick. The younger Heimlich also claims that another Heimlich innovation, a surgical procedure for esophagus replacement, was actually developed by a Romanian physician, Dr. Dan Gavriliu. "Other than the maneuver for choking," Peter Heimlich says, "virtually all of my father's work has been discredited by every mainstream medical authority."
In 2000, Dr Heimlich had his first opportunity to actually perform the Heimlich Maneuver, when he heard a ruckus in a restaurant, and turned around to see a stranger choking. "I did the Heimlich maneuver," said Heimlich, "and got it out and then went on and had my lunch."
Heimlich's nephew is Anson Williams, the actor who played Potsie Webber on Happy Days.
Father: Philip Heimlich (social worker, b. 1888, d. 1987)
Mother: Mary Epstein
Sister: Cecelia Rosenthal
Sister: Esther Solomon
Sister: Bertha Wasch
Wife: Jane Murray (health columnist, daughter of dancer Arthur Murray, m. 3-Jun-1951, two sons, two daughters)
Son: Philip Heimlich (County Commissioner in Hamilton County, Ohio)
Son: Peter Heimlich (musician)
Daughter: Janet Heimlich (reporter, twin)
Daughter: Elisabeth (twin)
High School: New Rochelle High School, New Rochelle, NY (1937)
University: AB, Cornell University (1941)
Medical School: MD, Cornell University (1943)
Professor: Surgery, University of Cincinnati (1969-78)
Professor: Advanced Clinical Science, Xavier University (1977-89)
Lasker Award Public Service Award (1984)
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