Mar 5, 2013

The Man Behind the Maneuver

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.

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