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The Man Behind the Maneuver

Tuesday, March 05, 2013 - 05:00 PM

In the 1970s, choking became national news: thousands were choking to death, leading to more accidental deaths than guns. Nobody knew what to do. Until a man named Henry Heimlich came along with a big idea. Since then, thousands and thousands -- maybe even millions -- have been rescued by the Heimlich maneuver. Yet the story of the man who invented it may not have such a happy ending.

Producer Pat Walters wouldn't be here without the Heimlich maneuver -- it saved his life when he was just 11 years old. And one day he started wondering -- who was Heimlich, anyway? And how did he come up with his choking remedy? Pat had always kinda assumed Heimlich died in the mid-1800s. Not so. The man is very much alive: he's 93 years old, and calls Cincinnati, Ohio home.


Producer’s note:

We made some minor changes to this story that do not alter the substance.

First, we removed the audio of Peter Heimlich, Henry Heimlich’s son, from the version now on the site. When we approached Henry’s other son Phil to arrange an interview with his father, one of Phil’s conditions was that we not air audio of Peter. We thought he’d waived that provision in a subsequent conversation but he contends he did not. So we are honoring the original request.

Second, we originally reported that Henry Heimlich was involved in a train wreck when he was 19 years old and on the way to summer camp. In fact the wreck happened on the way back to New York City from summer camp, in the summer of 1941, making Heimlich 21 years old. We also stated that a woman whose husband attempted to perform an emergency tracheotomy on her bled to death, when in fact she choked to death. The audio has been adjusted to correct these facts.


Jonathan Epstein, Dr. Henry Heimlich and Pat Walters


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Comments [88]


The ending of this episode felt very mean spirited to me. I think that ending on such a negative note, with no discussion, was unnecessary and came across quite badly after the emotional story of the school nurse. Heimlich made mistakes, he was wrong with his later medical ideas - but if we were to ignore the names of anyone who made mistakes, we wouldn't even use names. I think pointing out his flaws could have been done in a more constructive way - how should we approach those who give us great things, but also do things wrong? - instead of attacking an old man before he dies. It was cruel to interview him about his accomplishments, then paint him in such a bad light. I usually love Radiolab, but I'm very disappointed with this episode.

Mar. 17 2017 01:07 PM
Philip H from Seattle, WA

The hostile reaction from some listeners is disappointing. It seems to run along the lines of "why can't we have our heroes" or (odder yet for a public person who welcomed the attention) "why can't we leave the man in peace"? They can't seem to accept a person can be right about some things and wrong about others; save lives and also endanger them.

At the peak of his fame, Heimlich was determined to promote even more uses for his maneuver. He claimed it could save drowning victims and even treat asthma attacks. No medical evidence supports those claims. In fact we know that delaying CPR was a life-threatening waste of time. But Heimlich and his namesake institute kept promoting its use in drowning situations up until last summer.

Heimlich then set his sights on bigger goals: finding a cure for cancer and AIDS. This time, the "out of the box" solution was "malariotherapy." For years, he ran unregulated clinical trials in the developing world, infecting patients with malaria... and so on.

You'd think Radiolab listeners live in the reality-based community! Great show.

Dec. 17 2016 02:29 PM
Zed from Colorado

Heimlich, 96, saves a life in retirement home:
BBC still calls it by its original name.

Maybe the stunt "reporter" on this show can next time dangle himself from a hot air balloon while reporting, you know, to make the story even more exciting. Journalists these days would sell their souls for some attention. I won't even look up his name, but I will look up Heimlich. Thank you for saving lives.

May. 27 2016 02:18 PM
Quentin Browne from Brasil

This Peter guy was a jerk as you Americans call idiots. After the great man agreed to give him the interview and taking into account his age and years of service to mankind, Peter should have kept his mouth shut and show some respect. Perfection doesn't exist when we talk about humanity. .the good Doctor did much more than any of us to save lives and further research. ...paradigm shifts come from crazy ideas. Anyways to sum up Peter was an overly self obsessed git.

Jul. 20 2015 06:04 AM
Anna Chaucer

I have wondered since I learned how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver about who invented it! This was very interesting and informative, and answered all my questions!

Apr. 06 2015 07:28 PM
Alice H. Nash

I think it is sad that people no longer can use/call this procedure the Heimlich Maneuver. Anything that man may have done after inventing this procedure does not take away from the fact that he did come up with it and it has saved so many people's lives. It is obvious to me that he should be receiving the credit that is due. Also I think it is important that we continue to teach our children this procedure, because if someone around them is choking they need to be prepared and informed.

Oct. 27 2014 09:58 PM

How Dr. Heimlich Maneuvered Hollywood Into Backing His Dangerous AIDS "Cure" by Seth Abramovitch, The Hollywood Reporter, August 14, 2014:

When 'Chicago Hope' Dealt in Heimlich, Malariotherapy and AIDS by Seth Abramovitch, The Hollywood Reporter, August 14, 2014:

Aug. 19 2014 09:35 PM

I'm new to Radiolab. About 30 episodes in. This one in particular bothered me for many of the same reasons alreday written.
Although I may never know the answer to this as he has since moved on, I wonder how Pat Walters feels now? Given the adverse reactions and potential damage he may have added to a man's name, what responsibility does he feel if any? Would he have done a better or different reporting job? Kids or no kids will he never refer to the "abdominal thrust" by it's former name again? Has his convictions changed at all in the face of public opinion or does he stand by his feelings and the fairness of the reporting that he did? At this time I'm inclined to want to make all kinds of baseless assumptions about Walters: Is he an egomaniac? Is he simply one who likes to inflame human emotions just because? Does he care about anything but getting the story at whatever expense and furthering his "edgy" career? By thinking these things and taking the time to comment about it do I give him exactly what he wants, do I become as bad as Walters appears to be?

I don't know, but it seems like there is a whole lot missing from this story, and unless I am completely missing the point of Radiolab and despite Walters final conclusion, it feels like irresponsible journalism. In the end Walters doesn't have to give Heimlich his respect, but he should have to give his audience a well researched, unbiased and balanced story.

Just my two worthless cents.

Aug. 11 2014 02:48 PM

I took a CPR for Healthcare Providers class taught by the American Red Cross last week (March 19, 2014) and the instructor told us she had to call the "Heimlich maneuver" Abdominal thrust now due to some law suit. She then proceeded to demonstrate the Heimlich maneuver. She did not say anything about back blows being the preferred method. So if the Red Cross has adopted back blows as their preferred method for choking victims, they haven't let everyone know about it.
I am a nurse and I know the Heimlich maneuver works. I have used it myself. I also taught it to my family members and 4 years ago my 12 year old daughter saved my life by using the Heimlich maneuver on me when I was choking on a nut! I will always call it by its true name. And I wish I could personally thank the man who invented it. I know 5 back blows would not have saved my life that day. Give credit where credit is due!

Mar. 23 2014 01:12 PM
Mark from England

This is the first podcast I've listen to from you guys and it was fantastic. It was humorous, engaging, intelligent, educational, emotional...The letter from your teacher is one of my top podcast moments ever. You've gained a new listener.

However. The Abdominal Thrust sounds like an interesting exercise I should try out in the gym on Monday. Seriously, they're not referring to it as the Heimlich anymore? Seems silly, even if it's some sly punishment for some of his later claims. (Though I realise the purpose is perhaps to easier remind the user of the actions the maneuver involve).

I'm pretty sure that name is engrained into mine (22) and your generations lexis, so our kids will probably grow up calling it that. It may fade out if they really insist on changing the name, but I don't think it will be as soon as you suggest. I also don't understand your opinion at the end. Why wouldn't you honour the legacy of the man who saved your life?

Dec. 14 2013 08:07 AM
gary willson from eureka springs ar.

I was working at the williams center hotel as a bellman when i was used as a choking victim so henry heimlich himself could show the people of tulsa how to do this, at the time i didn't know him but 33 years later to know how many lives this has saved makes me proud to have met him as then he was a very polite man and very warm to everyone around him. So your opinion is like doggie doo on a cold day

Nov. 26 2013 05:58 PM

So, he invented a maneuver that saves lives, and you what? Made a show about it and felt you were socially superior or something? Your kids will call it the Heimlich maneuver no matter what you call it.

Nov. 05 2013 10:04 PM
sue from ny

Why won't you have your kids call it Heimlich maneuver when he's saved so many lives? How many have you saved? I wish you wouldn't have provided your opinion, just because you are on the air. You're being an arrogant jerk.

Nov. 02 2013 12:55 PM

10/21/13,"Radiolab's junk reporting: my investigations request to the National Science Foundation -- and some surprising statistics about choking deaths" by Peter M. Heimlich, The Sidebar (my blog):

Oct. 21 2013 08:09 PM
Isaac Hopkins from State College, PA

Every week, I listen to The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, which (apart from being a science podcast almost as good as Radiolab) is heavily linked to the science-based medicine movement.
When I first heard this story, I hadn't yet started listening to the SGU, and my interpretation is now quite different. This time, the interview with Heimlich set off a chorus of alarm bells for pseudoscience and "alternative medicine." He says a number of things that are the favorite lines of cranks and charlatans. It seems to me that he is entirely sincere, but horribly misguided.
I don't find it particularly important whether or not the maneuver has his name attached, but this is a reminder that a famous name does not warrant any default credence.

Oct. 10 2013 12:10 AM

I recently was catching up with your back podcast episodes and listened to "The Man Behind the Maneuver," about Dr. Heimlich and his eponymous life-saving technique. I found it informative, insightful, humorous, and touching. The producer had a deft touch telling Dr. Heimlich's story, as well as his own. I almost lost it when he was speaking with his elementary school nurse, one of the most emotional exchanges I've listened to in quite some time.

I do take a slight difference of opinion about his closing remark about how he would not continue to refer to the maneuver as Heimlich's. I understand that the Dr. has had some very radical and dangerous approaches to some of medicine and science's most challenging and intractable problems in cancer and AIDS. Not referring to this admittedly life-saving technique as his denies him of his rightly due legacy. Especially when balanced with his other not inconsiderable contributions to medicine.

Even such a great mind as Edison had many skeletons in his closet, including anti-semitism, and we do not deny him his legacy as the greatest American inventor of all time. It seems some what revisionist to call them "abdominal thrusts".

Keep up the fantastic work. I'll be listening.

Aug. 21 2013 11:18 AM

Preface: I love RadioLab!


Doctor Heimlich created a technique that has saved so many lives. Controversy over his later endeavors is certainly fair game - for those endeavors.

To let those controversies overshadow the lives he saved via his valve and maneuver - which arguably included Mr. Walters himself - is an injustice.

Isaac Newton dabbled in alchemy and other occult studies. Do we dismiss his discoveries of gravitational force, laws of motion and physics, light spectrums, his invention of the refracting telescope and calculus - simply because he also believed he might be able to make gold using a Philosopher's stone?

Decry their efforts in questionable pursuits if you like, but give these men credit where it's due.

It's called a Heimlich Maneuver.

Aug. 06 2013 09:46 PM

How is malariotherapy considered controversial when it won a Nobel Prize? Also, I think it's a travesty that the Red Cross would try to remove his name from the technique - it works perfectly and saves countless lives. Politics...ridiculous.

Jul. 21 2013 09:34 PM
Ellie from Australia

Great story. There was another interesting report on Australia's public broadcaster about the maneuvre. The maneuvre has never been accepted by the Australian medical profession because of a lack of clinical testing and evidence. The report contains an interesting discussion about Heimlich's personal influence in getting the maneuvre accepted in the US:

Jul. 12 2013 09:26 PM
amcfarlin from Monterey CA

Am I the only one that caught how loony Heimlich is? The guy Googles his own name every day and uses his maneuver to promote his legacy over current health standards. I felt half the episode was subtly showing how much of a weirdo he was

Jun. 26 2013 02:13 PM
nick flory from san francisco, ca

A lot of us benefit medically today from the misfortune of others, and I think that shouldn't be forgotten. It serves as a cautionary tale, and reminds us to not take life for granted. If the name Heimlich had already been effectively disassociated with the Heimlich-Maneuver, then we wouldn't have had this bit of good radio that gave us new perspective on life and living in the modern world. Weather or not our opinions of Heimlich change for better or worse from hearing this, the future should still go on having an opinion of him and his practices.

May. 24 2013 02:39 PM
Elias from Michigan

I thought the episode was interesting and well-made. After reading Peter Heimlich's hysterical comments, I will now make a concerted effort to call the procedure the abdominal thrust from this point forward.

May. 04 2013 06:24 PM

5/1/13, Ben Kaufman at Cincinnati CityBeat (alt-weekly) reports Radiolab's "Heimlich censorship deal":

May. 01 2013 05:23 PM
María Blume from El Paso

I think it is sad when the narrator said he wouldn't teach his children to call it the Heimlich maneuver. Dr. Heimlich may have gotten a lot of things wrong but we should still give him credit for the one he got right and saved so many lives.

Apr. 25 2013 04:39 PM

4/22/13, "Radiolab disappears me from story about my father per agreement they made with my brother to censor me" by Peter M. Heimlich, The Sidebar (my blog):

Apr. 22 2013 05:15 PM
David from Portland, OR

They made a skit about Heimlich's origin story on Robot Chicken:

Apr. 12 2013 05:03 PM

Wonderful episode except for the end, not calling it the Heimlich maneuver is a great disservice to this amazing man.

Apr. 12 2013 03:33 PM
Brian Belgard

Banger Maine? Come on guys, get your regional pronunciations down.

Apr. 08 2013 10:01 AM
marilyn anderson from Castro Valley

Your show on Henry Heimlich reminds me of a routine by the comedian Edie Izzard on his San Francisco show "Dress to Kill" it june 2009, watch it on "You Tube". Then re-listen to the Radiolab show! Love Radio Lab, Marilyn

Apr. 04 2013 12:23 AM
Nathaniel from Portland, ME

Oh my god. When I got to the part where Pat Walters is talking to his school nurse, Mrs. Ennis, and she reads her letter, my emotions instantly welled up and I started crying almost instantly. Thank you, Radiolab, for uniting us all through incredible, human stories like this.

Apr. 03 2013 01:39 PM

After hearing this show, I will make a point to continue calling it the Heimlich maneuver. Thank you, Dr. Heimlich.

Apr. 02 2013 01:27 AM
Mentes from Brooklyn

I listened to this podcast yesterday and today I selected a random folder from my music library and one of the songs is called "Heimlich Maneuver" by the band Lecture on Nothing. Crazy coincidence!

Mar. 30 2013 11:10 AM
Alan Kelly from Montreal

Not strictly Heimlich anecdote, but at a public restaurant, I was sitting opposite her when she stopped breathing. I rose up, walked to put myself behind her, slapped her back sharply, and she coughed up food, and resumed breathing.

Mar. 26 2013 09:42 AM
Saved from Hong Kong

I choked on food. It was awful.

But I remembered what to do.

Calmly, I performed the Heimlich Maneuver on myself, by forcing the bottom of my ribcage against the back of a chair.

The technique worked perfectly. That knowledge probably saved my life.

In this radio show I hear now the authorities recommend back blows – thump the victim on the back five times.

That's clearly nonsense. How do I thump myself on the back?

The Mayo Clinic pays a half-hearted homage to back blows here:

Back blows? WTF is wrong with the Red Cross?

Thank you Dr Heimlich.

Mar. 24 2013 06:50 PM
Tom M from Halifax, NS Canada

This is a great episode. I've listened to it 3 times already.

As an economics student I am always thinking about the unintended consequences of peoples actions, in other words how the outcomes (consequences) of people actions often completely contradict their intentions. This episode provides the most stark, yet touching example of this that I have come across in years.

Thank you

Mar. 24 2013 08:38 AM

I love this episode. Lately I've had issues negotiating the apparent intelligence of the elderly men in my family, and the deeply mistaken reasoning they try to impose, out of a sense of perceived authority and experience. I'm not sure why it is, but after a few (or maybe just one) successes, a man's ego inflates and they try to solve problems they are not qualified to. James Randi described jokingly that PhD candidates, after they receive their degree, believe that they can do and say no wrong. I don't think these people are ill intentioned at all, they are just deeply misguided about what they can accomplish after one or two successes. Just like L. Pauling (after receiving his Nobel Prize) believed that downing huge amounts of vitamin C can cure the common cold. Yes, it's out of the box thinking, but not based on any real usable facts. Age and experience are no substitute for knowledge.

Does not calling the Heimlich maneuver "Heimlich" bother me? Not really. I don't think Pat was trying to get other people to agree with his opinion either. If the maneuver itself works and is used, what does it matter what it's called? Shouldn't Heimlich focus on the fact that it is still used and that it works (to the extent that it does), rather than the fact that people find it unnecessary to venerate him and call his name all the time?

Mar. 22 2013 07:29 PM
Janis Miltenberger

As an EMT and avid RadioLab listener I loved the show. I was discouraged with your comment at the end stating that you would not include his name in identifying the maneuver. I was not deterred by Heimlich's later claims concerning malaria treatment curing AIDS, cancer etc. There is much that we don't know about the human body and health, to discount completely Dr. Heimlich's research seems ill advised. I for one have more respect for Dr. Heimlich now, because he is willing to look where others do not. Given the passing of time we shall see if his line of thought doesn't hit the mark.

It will always be the Heimlich Maneuver as far as I am concerned and I cant wait to save a life using it.

Mar. 21 2013 04:43 PM
Jim Gonzales from Omaha

Maybe they took it down after I followed one of your links and complained about it.

Mar. 19 2013 11:51 AM

Once again your program has left me with a lot to think about. I found it to be informative, interesting, and sad. Dr. Heimlich seems to suffer from a lack of early failures which resulted in later questionable actions and claims. In the end, I disagreed with the reporter's assessment of Dr. Heimlich's career. Despite everything else he has done before or after developing the Heimlich maneuver, there is no doubt that this procedure is his creation and that it should be attributed to him.

Mar. 19 2013 10:35 AM

3/19/13, "Cincinnati Biz Courier publishes, then disappears article with unflattering information about my father that was reported by NPR's Radiolab and The Atlantic -- and the paper's editor (who teaches journalism) ain't talking" by Peter M. Heimlich, The Sidebar (my blog):

Mar. 19 2013 09:56 AM
Toby from Earth

How many ribs are broken when performing CPR? But we still do this procedure.
What is the rate of success, or risk, of current cancer treatments?
Side effects of antidepressants? And we can go on and on.
To try to discredit Dr. Heimlich research and legacy because he is not “main stream” is not only cruel and in bad taste but highly irresponsible and narrow-minded. In today’s society of opinions over facts, of “good intentions” over good deeds, of deserving everything but working for nothing, I understand the lack of character shown by Mr. Walters as he dismisses the work of the man that provided a tool to save his life. I can understand it, but I can not condone it. I shriek of thinking how would Vesalius fare in Mr. Walters’ mind. Thankfully we have scientist like Dr. Heimlich and Vesalius that care not about being main stream, but about finding answers and solutions to humanity’s problems.

Mar. 17 2013 02:15 PM
Russ from Sioux Falls

The end of this show seemed to pit Heimlich against the Red Cross. The list of the Red Cross's wrongs is too long for this comment (racism, tainted blood supply, Liddy Dole, donation scandals, and cowardice (personal)). This seems to go against all that RadioLab has delivered to us in the past. Think Hookworms. If the Red Cross had been around during the time of Ignaz Semmelweis, they would have been leading the charge against doctors washing their hands. Next time find a reputable organization to argue a point.

Mar. 17 2013 08:38 AM

Okay, RadioLab, you have some explaining to do. Your reporter's comment at the end of the story clearly upset many listeners including this one. Did you do this as a ploy to see how many listeners you have? I'm stunned by what up until now has been many hours of excellent programming.

Mar. 16 2013 07:28 PM
Jim Gonzales from Omaha

I do find your father's research in using malariotherapy to be controversial but I don't think I'd go so far as to say its notorious. I'm not aware of any laws that he broke, correct me if I'm wrong. Your friend Dr. Baratz seemed to make some bogus claims on this front.

There are many treatments that go on now that people object to such as the use of embryonic stem cells for things like curing cancer (and has to be conducted overseas) or in one of radiolabs own episodes the use of hook worms to cure allergies.

I think you'd have us believe he was some sort of Josef Mengele.

Mar. 15 2013 10:44 AM
Jim Gonzales from Omaha

When I search the internet I see responses to what "Holly Martins" was doing such as the following:

"Personally, I do not believe it is necessary to discredit Heimlich; Heimlich’s protocol for submersion victims flies in the face of current medical science and has done so for more than 20 years. It has had its "day in court" so to speak within the medical community and has never been accepted. If Holly Martin wants to call Heimlich a fraud because of his (Heimlich's actions), that is only his opinion/conclusion, and he should be free to express it."

and this

We have never supported this procedure, and it has been put to rest in this forum, and you were one of the postees. However, i am sure the ERC looks at all evidence carefully."

Yet on your website you make statements like

"Our research revealed my father to be a spectacular con man and serial liar, arguably one of history's most successful - and destructive - medical humbugs."

I think radiolab needs to do a better job of vetting its sources and giving the other side of the story.

Mar. 15 2013 08:59 AM

Mr. Gonzales,

You're correct. As has been widely-reported, in the early years of researching my father's career, I used pseudonyms both to obtain information and to bring the information to public attention.

For example, about ten years ago I submitted an anonymous complaint to UCLA's Office for the Protection of Research Subjects. That triggered an investigation of UCLA faculty who participated in my father's notorious "malariotherapy" experiments on Chinese AIDS patients. Media reports about that are linked here:


Mar. 15 2013 08:56 AM
Jim Gonzales from Omaha

On the website where you admit to being Holly Martins (which is registered to you ) you justify it with:

"You tell me how I'm supposed to call a doctor and say, 'Hi, I'm the son of Henry Heimlich, the scourge of your life. Would you tell me the truth about him?'"

Yet you used the name Holly Martins all over the internet to try and discredit your father. You weren't trying to interview anyone you were just putting out questionable information about your father.

Mar. 15 2013 02:29 AM
Jim Gonzales from Omaha

Yet despite all that "Holly Martins" makes posts like this:

"Finally, I thought it would interest board members that Dr. Edward A. Patrick appears to be the actual inventor of what came to be known as the Heimlich maneuver."
It should be the first link that comes up.

Edward Patrick is such a big liar yet you believe him when he says he invented the Heimlich Maneuver?

Mar. 15 2013 12:49 AM
Jim Gonzales from Omaha


Mar. 15 2013 12:41 AM
Jim Gonzales from Omaha

Because of the size limitations on messages I'll just have to make a couple small posts.

You went around pretending to be Holly Martins attacking your father which you admit to.

You also made a website named back in 2003 which you used to attack your father. On that website you talk about how Edward Patrick lied over and over again. It should of been named

He sued and lost over this story because the judge said it was substantially true.

Mar. 15 2013 12:18 AM
Jim Gonzales from Omaha


Mar. 15 2013 12:09 AM

Hello Mr. Gonzales,

I'm not sure what "bogus claims" you're referring to, but if you wish to discuss, please feel free to get in touch or we can continue here. Here's my contact information:

You may also find some useful information in these media reports:

Coincidentally, today the Cincinnati Business Courier (the newspaper that published the January 24, 2005 article you posted) ran this item about the Radiolab report about my father, "Dr. Henry Heimlich's Reputation Hangs in the Balance" by James Ritchie:


Peter M. Heimlich

Mar. 14 2013 08:27 PM
Jim Gonzales from Omaha

Peter it would seem that you have made your fair share of bogus claims. I found this article which gives your fathers side of the story on some of the things you have been claiming.

Mar. 14 2013 06:16 PM

Worst episode. Maybe the only bad episode. The editorializing was jerky, and left me feeling like the "reporter", had either something personal against the subject, or knew something damning that wasn't presented in the story. Either way I was disappointed this episode went to air as it was. I feel like I could have gotten a better take on Heimlich from a goofy college kids web blog.

Mar. 14 2013 12:56 PM

I never miss an episode of Radiolab. And have rarely, with the occasional exception of some pseudoscience, been critical of the show. But this episode was really lacking in empathy for its subject. The reporting was a little slanted and mean spirited. Bad journalism and sloppy reporting. Boo!

Mar. 14 2013 12:46 PM

Via my website:

"Medical experts speak out against my father's history of misconduct":

"Some of the victims - casualties of the Heimlich maneuver for drowning rescue":

Mar. 13 2013 09:31 AM

Heimlich's son Henry is a very small man.

His father is flawed, but he can be credited with saving countless lives.

Mar. 13 2013 01:27 AM
John from San Francisco, CA

Loved the episode. Hated the conclusion your ungrateful, pretentious reporter came to at the end of the show.

Mar. 13 2013 01:18 AM

Jad, Robert, and excellent RadioLab team:

You guys are awesome. I really liked the Heimlich short. It had all the hallmarks of a great RadioLab show: the interrogation of a mundane topic that makes it fascinating, science and emotion, personalities illuminated as ideas are revealed.

I wholly disagree, however, with its conclusion. The notion that Dr. Heimlich's heroic legacy of success is negated by his legacy of failures totally misunderstands both heroism and success. The really touching, moving heroes are the imperfect ones - the people who, in spite of their shortcomings, have done remarkable things. Also, innovators (and Heimlich is clearly an innovator) fail - that is why they succeed, because they're willing to fail - to try new things, to buck conventional wisdom. I'll take Dr. Heimlich's weekly google alert of saved lives as an indication of the very clear benevolent good he's done the world over his unsuccessful attempts to do more good any day.

Thanks again for all the great work.

David O'Donnell

Mar. 12 2013 12:43 PM
Jim Gonzales from Omaha

They should still call it the Heimlich maneuver. The man has made some mistakes but the good he has done far outweighs it. You should just give all the information and let your listeners decide for themselves. This reminds me of what you did to the Hmong lady and her grand father.

Mar. 12 2013 11:10 AM

Correction: the Reuters article about UCLA's "malariotherapy" investigation referenced in my previous comment was published on April (not March) 14, 2003.

Mar. 11 2013 08:27 PM

1) Via "Scientists Linked to Heimlich Investigated: Experiment Infects AIDS Patients in China With Malaria" by Robert Anglen, Cincinnati Enquirer, February 16, 2003:

(Dr. Heimlich's) experiments - which seek to destroy HIV, the AIDS-causing virus, by inducing high malarial fevers - have been criticized by the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration and condemned by other health professionals and human rights advocates as a medical "atrocity."

2) Via "Heimlich Maneuvers Into AIDS Therapy" by Deena Beasley, Reuters, March 14, 2003:

"If (Dr.) Heimlich is really doing this, he should be put in jail," said Mark Harrington, executive director of Treatment Action Group, an AIDS research advocacy organization.

Mar. 11 2013 06:19 PM
Julian from Los Angeles

While I really enjoyed this story, the moralizing and conclusions at the end really left a sour taste in my mouth.

First of all, what did Heimlich every do that was so bad that it should override his past accomplishments? Inventing a procedure that was put into practice and has saved thousands and thousands of lives vs. coming up with a few well-intentioned but misguided theories that, as far as I know from listening to the the story, have not been directly linked to any loss of life whatsoever.

It's not as though this man became a bilious, hate-spewing maniac. He simply backed some theories that are not within the medical mainstream, even though he thinks they would work. Why is this such a moral transgression that it should undermine his truly astounding and important achievements?

Even if he DID become the most vile hate-monger this world has ever seen, does that mean we should rewrite history, and pretend as though he didn't invent "abdominal thrusting?" No!! In fact, we've had Radiolab episodes that have been way more ambivalent about much more seriously messed up people in the past -- what about Fritz Haber?

Heimlich didn't deserve this kind of treatment. I am honestly left with a bad taste in my mouth from the conclusion of this episode. I'm sure this was not the intentions of Pat Walters and the rest of the Radiolab staff, but the ending left me feeling as though this was a cheap attempt to sensationalize an otherwise well-produced and fascinating episode.

Mar. 11 2013 04:50 PM
Juliet from Kansas City

I was blown away by this story- Radiolab at its best. A combination of science, history, and personal reflection rolled together in a way no other show does better. I must say that I have been disappointed by two recent stories- the story about Hmong refugees (because I felt the treatment of the refugee disrespectful) and the story about paying drug addicts not to have kids (I found the subject interesting but the bizarre conclusion that sounded like an argument against all birth control left me dumbfounded.) This story, on the other hand, made me feel like Radiolab is back. I don't feel like Pat Walters’ conclusion was disrespectful to Dr. Heimlech. I felt that throughout the story he showed nothing but gratitude towards this maneuver that saved his life and the doctor who created it, and he says that he will forever connect the two. I interpreted his conclusion as more a reflection about the evolution of medical practices, and a reflection on how ideas grow and evolve beyond the individuals who first have them. As a young person who firmly knows this maneuver as "The Hiemlech," I would argue that "Abdominal Thrusts" is actually a better name for it, only because it is self-descriptive, which seems to be a very sensible way to name any emergency medical procedure.

Mar. 11 2013 03:38 PM

I've read the transcript of the Radio National discussion posted by Peter Heimlich and find that since Australia does not use his father's maneuver it would be interesting to see how its ratio of deaths by suffocation compares to that of countries that use it. I think the reason the maneuver became so popular is not due just to his father's charisma but to the fact that it worked and gave people a clear tool to help suffocating victims. It is inevitable that some damage can be inflicted is the maneuver is done improperly but when the alternative is death and nothing is absolutely fail proof one must try the most effective way to help. If after this debate it is found that the chest thrust is the most effective and it can easily be performed by anyone I am sure it will take over the Heimlich with time.

Mar. 11 2013 04:29 AM

Via "Heimlich maneuver's creator fights Red Cross" by Cliff Radel, Cincinnati Enquirer (re-published in USA Today), January 21, 2013:

'This waffling has vexed (Dr. Heimlich), prompting him to ask the Red Cross to remove his name from any of its literature and training procedures on choking.

"When they started calling for back slaps first and then the Heimlich maneuver," he recalled, "I wouldn't let them use the Heimlich name."'

Mar. 10 2013 08:38 PM

Did not agree with the conclusion.

Do we judge Steve Jobs in the end solely on the ideas that were crazy and wrong?
Or the ones that were crazy and correct?

Pat Walters was totally wrong to dismiss the man that saved his life.

Mar. 10 2013 04:45 PM

Disappointed with the conclusions on this last podcast. Your show that once presented hookworm parasites as possible cure for allergies, now endorses the possibility that the Heimlich maneuver will not be called after its inventor in the future because -at 93 years old of age- he has offered improbable theories.
A true critical thinker would present the facts behind Heimlich's latest ideas before condemning him. Heimlich has a point suggesting that creative thinking is sometime necessary to find alternatives, even if his thinking in this case is wrong. But we won't know why it is wrong because we have to hear about Pat Walter's emotions at the sappy reading of his nurse's letter. Give me a break! And how dare he suggest that the world should use the anonymous definition of the move instead of his inventor's name!

Mar. 10 2013 04:18 PM
Ian Atkinson from Melbourne, Australia

I was fascinated by Radio Lab's portrayal of Dr Heimlich, but I think they've allowed personalities to get in the way of truth. For an account of the science behind the Heimlich manoeuvre see

Mar. 10 2013 03:39 PM

Why must people always involve innocent animals? Really, can't people realize that animals aren't here for us to be cruel and inhumane to them for our benefit?

Mar. 10 2013 01:46 AM
Maria from Berkeley Ca

Geniuses are often a bit mad.
Sprinkle a dash of success and stir in some fame and you have a recipe for an ego maniacal disaster. I doubt his intent was malevolent even if his absurd defiance in face of the facts is appaling.

How many of us have been there?
Don't get ahead of yourself about getting ahead of yourself.
Better men have made worse mistakes.
Could the Curies have really imagined the worst as well as the best?

I'm going to make sure my grandson learns the Heimlich Maneuver and calls it that as well as understands why.

Mar. 09 2013 08:14 PM
e from san francisco

I was fascinated with this story and was struck by how much it reminded me of the Peter Duesberg saga. An amazing scientist somehow lost his marbles and went from saving lives to costing them. I only wish PD had a son who was so out-spoken against his father. Peter Heimlich you are the definition of a hero.

BTW, Peter Duesberg would likely make a fascinating character for a future radio lab story (

Mar. 09 2013 02:01 AM

I found this story interesting, well researched and moving. When Pat had his school nurse read her Thank You letter, it was a touching moment of humanity. These moments are what separates out this programing from the rest of the "noise" that we are subject to on a commercial basis. I have to be honest, as a former journalist Pat's comments at the end left a bad taste in my mouth. Medical misadventures aside, I feel that Dr. Heimlich should be recognized for this contribution.. even as it becomes outdated. Many medical techniques become quickly outdated as our technology improves and our understanding of the human body leads us to better practices. Pat's opinion at the end perhaps was an attempt to keep it "real" but I felt it was rude and disrespectful. The general public is leery enough of journalists because they twist and spin quotes and data around to suit their mood or to gain readership. Bad call Radio Lab Senior Editing Staff, and Poor professional form Pat.

Mar. 08 2013 06:37 PM
Stephen from Denver

I just finished listening to the podcast and couldn't help being more than a little irritated at the end. When Pat Walters said he wasn't sure he would tell his "future" children to call it the Heimlich Maneuver. What a punch to the face he gave Dr. Heimlich, and to think he went to his home and Interviewed him. How disingenuous.

Mar. 08 2013 12:12 AM

I can't believe that the comment Pat Walters made got past everyone when he said that hearing his teacher's recollection of saving his life leaves him feeling "A little choked up" yuk-yuk. Yeah I'm a dork. I strongly agree that the maneuver that saves people from choking should forever be named after him despite any other failures he may have had. This procedure was not even "discovered" but invented by Heimlich after intentionally setting his mind to solving it. Even if it gets renamed, I'm fairly certain that Heimlich himself will never see it happen in his own lifetime.

Mar. 07 2013 06:37 PM

Such a mind blowing and touching episode.

Mar. 07 2013 01:43 PM
Dennis from Evansville, IN

Great show as usual. I think that if we are going to call the man out for his misdeeds, we also have to credit him for the amazing number of lives he has saved. So I think trying to detach his name from the technique he developed is simply wrong on so many levels. That's just the way I feel about it.

Thanks for the show!

Mar. 07 2013 11:41 AM
D-Man from Granada Hills

Pat Walters should eat yogurt from now on. It would sure be unfortunate [while he's choking] to ask his kid to perform the 'What-cha-call-it...thingamajiggy...abdominal F-stick move' on him. The rest of us shall request the 'Heimlich Maneuver'! Jad & Robert....Keep up the excellent work, and thank you!

Mar. 07 2013 07:55 AM
Mike Rulah

Stop your nonsense and live in the moment.

Mar. 07 2013 06:16 AM

It is possible that Dr. Heimlich has a form of dementia due to his age.

Mar. 06 2013 06:22 PM

Hey Mat: Yep, I grew up in Reading. Went to Whitfield and Wilson!

Mar. 06 2013 05:33 PM
Mauricio Del Castillo from Doral, Fl

I loved your podcast, and I always have an immediate adjective after I hear it, today was the first time I thought a negative adjective: What an a## hole, sorry, this is how I felt

Mar. 06 2013 04:56 PM
MatWeller from Reading, PA

Did Pat Walters grow up in Reading, PA? My family lives in Wilson school district and my wife grew up in Whitfield and went to Wilson. Just curious.

Mar. 06 2013 04:08 PM
James Fleming from Columbus, OH

Fantastic short with Dr Heimlich today. However I am appalled at the gentleman who's life was saved. How can one not be thankful to the creator of the maneuver that saved his life? From the moment that he was saved from choking on that apple and every moment after, he has Dr. Heimlich to thank. No matter what you think of his experiments later in life, he deserves to have his name attached to that maneuver forever.

Mar. 06 2013 03:18 PM
Ben from Scotlw

Despite his obviously misguided later medical adventures, I still feel the famous manoeuvre should be credited to its inventor, a clearly inspirational and kindly man.

Ben Harrison, UK

Mar. 06 2013 02:57 PM
Thomas from Netherlands

Love this podcast :)
It reminded me of a book by Chuck Palahniuk (who also wrote fight club) called 'Choke'.
In this book the protagonist makes money by pretending to choke in crowded restaurants. Of course, in every group of people there is a hero who gives him the Heimlich manoeuvre. For many people this is one of the greatest/proudest moments in their lives. Those people always like to stay in touch to see how their savee is doing, because after saving his live, they kinda unconsciously feel responseble for him and they help him by sending money for birthday's and christmas.

Mar. 06 2013 07:57 AM

I very much enjoyed your podcast about the Heimlich maneuver, but was gobsmacked that you didn't include some audio from this classic bit of standup:

Mar. 05 2013 09:27 PM
jp from st louis

Enjoyed your story today. You left the end with a question as to whether appropriate to use the term Heimlich Maneuver with children. Serendipitously, my local news had a story today about a student who saves the live of her classmate choking on food in the school lunchroom using the Heimlich Maneuver. So may it's okay to allow the legend to live on(?)

Mar. 05 2013 07:16 PM

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