Open main menu

Henry Judah Heimlich (German pronunciation: [haɪ̯mlɪç]; February 3, 1920 – December 17, 2016) was an American thoracic surgeon and medical researcher. He is widely credited as the inventor of the Heimlich maneuver,[1] a technique of abdominal thrusts for stopping choking,[2] described in Emergency Medicine in 1974.[3] He also invented the Micro Trach portable oxygen system for ambulatory patients[4] and the Heimlich Chest Drain Valve, or "flutter valve", which drains blood and air out of the chest cavity.[5]

Henry Heimlich
Henry Heimlich.jpg
Henry Judah Heimlich

(1920-02-03)February 3, 1920
DiedDecember 17, 2016(2016-12-17) (aged 96)
EducationMD, Cornell University
Years active1943–2016
Known forAbdominal thrusts ("Heimlich maneuver")
Flutter valve
Medical career
ProfessionPhysician and medical researcher
InstitutionsDeaconess Associations (Heimlich Institute)
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
AwardsLasker Award (1984)
Engineering and Science Hall of Fame (1985)
American Academy of Achievement Award (1985)
Safety and Health Hall of Fame (1993)

Early life and educationEdit

Heimlich was born in Wilmington, Delaware, the son of Mary (Epstein) and Philip Heimlich. His paternal grandparents were Hungarian-Jewish immigrants, and his maternal grandparents were Russian Jews.[6][7] He graduated from New Rochelle High School (NY) in 1937 and from Cornell University (where he also served as drum major of the Cornell Big Red Marching Band) with a BA in 1941. At the age of 23, he received his MD from the Weill Cornell Medical College in 1943.[8] Since the Flexner recommendations had not yet been implemented, it was then still possible to graduate from an American medical school in two years.


After medical school Heimlich served with the U.S. Navy in China during World War II, he developed an innovative treatment for victims of trachoma, a previously incurable bacterial infection of the eyelids that was causing blindness throughout Asia and the Middle East. His approach – a mixture of an antibiotic ground into a base of shaving cream – proved effective, and it was used successfully on hundreds of patients.[9]

Heimlich valveEdit

In 1962, Heimlich invented the chest drainage flutter valve (also called the Heimlich valve)[10][11] and in 1969 was granted a patent for the device.[12] He said his inspiration came from seeing a Chinese soldier die from a bullet wound to the chest during World War II, a claim that was disputed by Frederick Webster, Heimlich's medical assistant in China.[13] The design of the valve allows air and blood to drain from the chest cavity in order to allow a collapsed lung to re-expand.[14] The invention was credited with saving the lives of hundreds of American soldiers in the Vietnam War.[15]

Heimlich maneuverEdit

External audio
  Heimlich's Maneuver, Radiolab, includes an interview with Dr. Heimlich, produced by Pat Walters

Heimlich first published his views about the maneuver in an informal article in Emergency Medicine on June 1, 1974,[16] entitled, "Pop Goes the Cafe Coronary". On June 19, 1974, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that retired restaurant-owner Isaac Piha used the procedure to rescue a choking victim, Irene Bogachus, in Bellevue, Washington.[17]

From 1976 to 1985, the choking-rescue guidelines of the American Heart Association and of the American Red Cross taught rescuers to first perform a series of backblows to remove the FBAO (foreign body airway obstruction); if backblows failed, then rescuers learned to proceed with the Heimlich maneuver (aka "abdominal thrusts"). After a July 1985 American Heart Association conference, backblows were removed from choking-rescue guidelines. From 1986 to 2005, the published guidelines of the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross recommended only the Heimlich maneuver as the treatment for choking; the National Institutes of Health still does apply it for conscious persons over one year of age,[18] as does the National Safety Council.[19]

The 2005 choking-rescue guidelines published by the American Heart Association called the procedure "abdominal thrusts". The new guidelines stated that chest thrusts and back blows may also deal with choking effectively.[20]

In spring 2006, the American Red Cross "downgraded" the use of the Heimlich maneuver,[21] essentially returning to the pre-1986 guidelines. For conscious victims, the new guidelines (nicknamed "the five and five"), recommend first applying five backblows; if this method fails to remove the airway obstruction, rescuers will then apply five abdominal thrusts. For unconscious victims, the new guidelines recommend chest thrusts, a method first recommended in a 1976 study by Charles Guildner,[22] with results duplicated in a year 2000 study by Audun Langhelle.[23] The 2006 guidelines also eliminated the phrase "Heimlich maneuver" and replaced it with "abdominal thrust".[24]

Allegations of case fraud have dogged Heimlich's promotion of abdominal thrusts as a treatment for drowning.[25] The 2005 drowning rescue guidelines of the American Heart Association[26] did not include citations of Heimlich's work and warn against the use of the Heimlich maneuver for drowning rescue as unproven and dangerous, due to its risk of vomiting leading to aspiration.[26]

In 2003, Heimlich's colleague Edward Patrick issued a press release portraying himself as the uncredited co-developer of the maneuver.[27][28] "I would like to get proper credit for what I've done...but I'm not hyper about it."

Heimlich claimed to have used his namesake maneuver to rescue a choking victim for the first time on May 23, 2016, when he was aged 96, reportedly saving the life of a fellow resident of his senior living community, Patty Ris.[29][30] However, in 2003 he told the BBC that he had used it for the first time on a man choking in a restaurant.[11]

Heimlich claimed his namesake treatment may have saved the lives of more than 50,000 people.[31] However, according to Sayre in 2005, "Despite widespread education on the use of the Heimlich maneuver and other techniques for treatment of acute airway obstruction, the death rate remains stable."[32]


From the early 1980s, Heimlich advocated malariotherapy, the deliberate infection of a person with benign malaria in order to treat ailments such as cancer, Lyme disease and (more recently) HIV. As of 2009 the treatments were unsuccessful, and attracted criticism as both scientifically unsound and dangerous.[33] The United States Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have rejected malariotherapy and, along with health professionals and advocates for human rights, consider the practice "atrocious".[34][35] The Heimlich Institute, a subsidiary of Deaconess Associations of Cincinnati, conducted malariotherapy trials in Ethiopia, though the Ethiopian Ministry of Health was unaware of the activity. Heimlich stated that his initial trials with seven subjects produced positive results, but refused to provide details.[36] The experiments had no institutional review board oversight.[28]

Studies in Africa, where both HIV and malaria occur commonly, indicate that malaria/HIV co-infection increases viral load and that malaria could increase the rate of spread of HIV as well as accelerate disease progression.[37] Based on such studies, Paul Farmer described the idea of treating HIV with malaria by stating "it seems improbable. The places where malaria takes its biggest toll are precisely those in which HIV reaps its grim harvest".[38]

Personal lifeEdit

On June 4, 1951, Heimlich married Jane Murray, daughter of ballroom-dancing entrepreneur Arthur Murray.[10] Heimlich's wife co-authored a book on homeopathy with Maesimund B. Panos called Homeopathic Medicine at Home.[39]

Heimlich and his wife had four children: Phil Heimlich, a former Cincinnati elected official turned conservative Christian radio talk-show host; investigative blogger Peter Heimlich,[40][41] whose website describes what he alleges to be his father's "wide-ranging, unseen 50-year history of fraud"[42] and has called his father, "a spectacular con man and serial liar" and has claimed "The only thing my father ever invented was his own mythology.";[43] Janet Heimlich, a freelance reporter; and Elisabeth Heimlich.[8]

Heimlich was the uncle of Anson Williams, who is known for his portrayal of Warren "Potsie" Weber on the 1970s hit TV show Happy Days.[44]

Heimlich's memoir, Heimlich's Maneuvers: My Seventy Years Of Lifesaving Innovation, was published in 2014 by Prometheus Books.[45]


A statement from his family said Heimlich died at The Christ Hospital on December 17, 2016, after complications from a heart attack in his home in Hyde Park, Cincinnati, on December 12. He was 96 years old.


  1. ^ "Henry Heimlich's Contributions". Retrieved March 23, 2014.
  2. ^ "Choking: First aid". Mayo Clinic. October 13, 2011. Retrieved March 23, 2014.
  3. ^ Markel, Howard (June 16, 2014). "How Dr. Heimlich got his maneuver 40 years ago". Retrieved June 16, 2014.
  4. ^ Heimlich, H. J. (1988). "Oxygen delivery for ambulatory patients. How the Micro-Trach increases mobility". Postgraduate Medicine. 84 (6): 68–73, 77–9. doi:10.1080/00325481.1988.11700463. PMID 3054848.
  5. ^ 4009 Heimlich valve 2005[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ McFaddden, Robert D. (December 17, 2016). "Dr. Henry J. Heimlich, Famous for Antichoking Technique, Dies at 96". New York Times. Retrieved December 17, 2016.
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b Heimlich's Maneuvers Henry J Heimlich, Prometheus Books, 2014, passim
  9. ^ "Dr. Henry Heimlich, inventor of lifesaving maneuver, dies at 96 | Cornell Chronicle".
  10. ^ a b Dr. Henry Heimlich, inventor of famed anti-choking Heimlich maneuver, dies WCPO Staff, Associated Press, December 17, 2016
  11. ^ a b Elliott, J (March 9, 2003). "Heimlich: Still saving lives at 83". BBC. Retrieved September 2, 2008.
  12. ^ "Patent Images". Retrieved January 21, 2017.
  13. ^ "WCPO Insider Monthly, March 2014, page 28". issuu. Retrieved January 21, 2017.
  14. ^ "John Hunter Hospital Intensive Care Unit Nursing Management of the Patient with an Intercostal Catheter" (PDF). pp. 24–25. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 29, 2007. Retrieved April 18, 2008.
  15. ^ "Dr. Henry Heimlich, Medical Innovator". VOA. Retrieved January 21, 2017.
  16. ^ Green, David B. (June 1, 2016). "This Day in Jewish History 1974: The Heimlich Maneuver Is Invented, Eaters Applaud". Haaretz. Retrieved May 16, 2019.
  17. ^ Dr. Howard MarkelHow Dr. Heimlich got his maneuver 40 years ago PBS News Hour, Howard Markel, June 16, 2014
  18. ^ "Choking – adult or child over 1 year". Medline Plus. NIH. Retrieved May 30, 2014.
  19. ^ "Choking". National Safety Council. NSC. Retrieved May 30, 2014.
  20. ^ International Consensus on Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and Emergency Cardiovascular Care (ECC) Science With Treatment Recommendations (2005). "Section 1: Part 2: Adult Basic Life Support". Circulation. 112 (III): 5–16. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.105.166472 (inactive August 20, 2019). Retrieved May 2, 2005.
  21. ^ "The American Red Cross Unveils Innovative New First Aid and CPR/AED Training Programs". American Red Cross. April 4, 2006. Archived from the original on April 29, 2006. Retrieved May 3, 2008.DEAD LINK
  22. ^ Guildner CW, Williams D, Subitch T (September 1976). "Airway obstructed by foreign material: the Heimlich maneuver". JACEP. 5 (9): 675–7. doi:10.1016/S0361-1124(76)80099-8. PMID 1018395.
  23. ^ Langhelle A, Sunde K, Wik L, Steen PA (April 2000). "Airway pressure with chest compressions versus Heimlich manoeuvre in recently dead adults with complete airway obstruction". Resuscitation. 44 (2): 105–8. doi:10.1016/S0300-9572(00)00161-1. PMID 10767497.
  24. ^ "The American Red Cross 2005 Guidelines for Emergency Care and Education" (PDF). American Red Cross. 2005. pp. 1–31. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 11, 2008. Retrieved May 3, 2008.
  25. ^ Heimlich's son cites Dallas case in dispute. Wilkes-Barre News, August 22, 2007
  26. ^ a b "Part 10.3: Drowning". Circulation. 112 (24): 133–135. November 25, 2005. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.105.166565. Retrieved April 4, 2008.
  27. ^ Patrick, EM (May 28, 2005). "Dr. Edward A. Patrick & Dr. Henry J. Heimlich Regarding the Heimlich maneuver". The Patrick Institute (via The Wayback Machine). Archived from the original on June 5, 2009. Retrieved January 7, 2012.
  28. ^ a b Francis, T (November 10, 2005). "Outmaneuvered, Part I". Radar. Archived from the original on November 24, 2005. Retrieved August 28, 2011.
  29. ^ "At 96, Dr. Heimlich finally uses his life-saving technique". Retrieved May 27, 2016.
  30. ^ "Dr Heimlich saves choking woman with manoeuvre he invented". BBC News. May 27, 2016. Retrieved May 27, 2016.
  31. ^ Croft, Jay (December 17, 2016). "Heimlich maneuver inventor Henry Heimlich dies at 96". Retrieved December 17, 2016.
  32. ^ Sayre, Michael (2005). Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (PDF). Humana Press, Springer. pp. 111–121. ISBN 978-1-58829-283-4.
  33. ^ "The Choke Artist" Jason Zengerle The New Republic April 23, 2007
  34. ^ Anglen, Robert (February 16, 2003). "Scientists linked to Heimlich investigated: Experiment infects AIDS patients in China with malaria". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved January 27, 2008.
  35. ^ "Heimlich's Audacious Maneuver". Los Angeles Times. October 30, 1994. Archived from the original on October 25, 2007. Retrieved January 27, 2008.
  36. ^ "The Choke Artist" Jason Zengerle The New Republic April 23, 2007
  37. ^ Abu-Raddad L, Patnaik P, Kublin J (2006). "Dual infection with HIV and malaria fuels the spread of both diseases in sub-Saharan Africa". Science. 314 (5805): 1603–6. Bibcode:2006Sci...314.1603A. doi:10.1126/science.1132338. PMID 17158329.
    Kublin JG; Patnaik, P; Jere, CS; Miller, William C; Hoffman, Irving F; Chimbiya, Nelson; Pendame, Richard; Taylor, Terrie E; Molyneux, Malcolm E (2005). "Effect of Plasmodium falciparum malaria on concentration of HIV-1-RNA in the blood of adults in rural Malawi: a prospective cohort study". The Lancet. 365 (9455): 233–40. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)17743-5. PMID 15652606.
  38. ^ Nierengarten MB (June 2003). "Malariotherapy to treat HIV patients?". The Lancet Infectious Diseases. 3 (6): 321. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(03)00642-X. PMID 12781493.
  39. ^ "Homeopathic Medicine at Home". Narayanna Verlag. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  40. ^ "Judge Won't Reconsider OPRA Decision, Non-Residents May View Public Records". Cape May County Herald. Retrieved February 19, 2017.
  41. ^ "January 10, 2018 episode transcript". CBC Radio. Retrieved January 21, 2018.
  42. ^ "Outmaneuvered: How we busted the Heimlich medical frauds".
  43. ^ "Henry Heimlich, inventor of Heimlich maneuver, dies at 96". USA TODAY. Retrieved April 13, 2017.
  44. ^ Williams, Anson. "Trivia". Retrieved October 1, 2011.
  45. ^ "Prometheus Books".

External linksEdit