In 1974, Dr. Henry Heimlich invented a new, more effective way to provide first aid to a choking victim. His technique, known as the “Heimlich Maneuver”, quickly became popular, but for more than 40 years Heimlich himself never had to use it.
All that changed last week, when an 87-year-old woman who shares Heimlich’s Cincinnati retirement home suddenly began choking in the seat right next to him.
Despite never having performed the procedure before, the 96-year-old former surgeon sprung into action. He quickly spun the woman’s chair around (so he could get behind her), placed a fist below her chest, and proceeded to deliver several upward thrusts until the piece of meat blocking her airway was dislodged.
“It was very gratifying,” Heimlich told The Guardian during an interview on Friday.
“That moment was very important to me. I knew about all the lives my maneuver has saved over the years and I have demonstrated it so many times but here, for the first time, was someone sitting right next to me who was about to die.”
According to Heimlich, the woman was dazed for a few seconds after the incident. “I, however, just sat there absolutely smiling as big as I could,” he told The Guardian.
Before the Heimlich Maneuver was invented, standard procedure for dealing with a choking victim was to slap them on the back to try and dislodge the blockage. But Heimlich realized that this practice could actually make things worse by forcing the obstruction further down the throat instead of dislodging it.
Heimlich published his initial findings in June of 1974. Soon afterwards, articles about people using the new procedure to save lives began popping up in newspapers all over the country. Later that summer, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an editorial about the technique, officially dubbing it the “Heimlich Maneuver.” It has been standard procedure for dealing with choking victims ever since.