If you’ve ever taken a CPR class, one of the first things you learn is what to do if someone is choking. Positioning yourself behind the choking person, you lodge your fist just below the ribcage and using your other hand against it thrust upwards. Air pushed out of the lungs forces whatever is stuck in there blocking the airway to shoot out, and you’ve saved the day.
As you probably know, this simple and effective technique is called the Heimlich Maneuver, but who, or what, is Heimlich?
Heimlich is a person, namely Dr. Henry J. Heimlich. Although it may seem like the Heimlich maneuver has been around forever, the good doctor invented it only in 1974. Before that, however, Heimlich had a history of medical innovation. During World War II he invented a treatment for trachoma, an eye infection that was causing blindness throughout the Asian and Middle Eastern theaters. After the war he pioneered an operation to replace the esophagus.
Still, Heimlich’s most famous and widely used innovation is his famous Maneuver. Before its invention choking was the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Today it doesn’t even crack the top 15. With a few simple abdominal thrusts anyone can save a choking victim. Even if he’d never invented anything else, Henry Heimlich would still go down in medical history as the man who outwitted choking.