New Delhi: The world at large is aware of the famous term, the 'Heimlich Manoeuvre' – performing a bear hug and abdominal thrusts which helps save a choking victim by ejecting a throat obstruction.
The move was originated in 1974 by Dr Henry J Heimlich and became one of the primary safety icons, which went on to be taught in schools portrayed in movies, displayed on restaurant posters and endorsed by medical authorities.
Even today, the manoeuvre is on the top of people's minds when a person witnesses another choking.
Dr Heimlich, the thoracic surgeon and medical maverick who became a name to reckon with after he developed the anti-choking technique, died on Saturday at a hospital in Cincinnati after suffering a heart attack at his home there last Monday, his family said. He was 96.
The famed Heimlich manoeuvre that was named after him has saved, it has been estimated, more than 100,000 lives.
Heimlich came up with the technique after reading about the high rate of deaths in restaurants that first were attributed to heart attacks but later found to have been caused by diners choking on food. An ordinary person could be a hero with 'the Heimlich manoeuvre' -it requires no equipment, no great strength and only minimal training.
The popular wisdom at the time called for repeatedly slapping the back of person struggling with an obstruction of the passage to the lungs. But Heimlich believed the back slaps could force the blockage deeper. To prove his method, he took anaesthetised lab dogs, blocked their windpipes with hunks of meat attached to strings in case of an emergency and developed a technique that would send his name around the world.
The Heimlich manoeuvre called for the rescuer to stand behind the choking victim, apply the thumb-side of a fist to a spot just under the diaphragm and between the lungs. By pushing sharply on that spot, a surge of air from the lungs would then expel the blockage.
As per the New York Times, more than four decades after inventing his manoeuvre, Dr. Heimlich used it himself on May 23 to save the life of an 87-year-old woman choking on a morsel of meat at Deupree House, their senior residence in Cincinnati. He said it was the first time he had ever used the manoeuvre in an emergency, although he had made a similar claim in 2003.
A man in Washington who came to a neighbour's rescue was credited with being the first person to use the Heimlich Manoeuvre after reading a story about it. Among the users of the technique, was the aide who saved Ronald Reagan during his 1976 presidential campaign.
It took more than a decade for the medical establishment to adopt the Heimlich Manoeuvre. In 1984, Heimlich was given the Lasker Award for public service. In 1986, it was officially recommended as the primary anti-choking technique by the Red Cross, although the organisation reversed that decision in 2006.
Later, Heimlich said that the technique should also be used to clear mucus from the lungs during an asthma attack. Heimlich damaged his credibility further by espousing malaria therapy , saying the high fevers of malaria stimulated the body's immune system to counter AIDS, cancer and Lyme disease.
(With Reuters inputs)