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96-Year-Old Dr. Henry Heimlich Saved a Choking Woman With His Own Maneuver

Although the Cincinnati surgeon had demonstrated the technique many times over the years, it was the first time he had ever used it in an emergency.

by VICE News and Reuters
May 28 2016, 7:00pm

In this Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 photo, Dr. Henry Heimlich holds his memoirs prior to being interviewed at his home in Cincinnati. (Al Behrman/AP)

Dr. Henry Heimlich, the 96-year-old Cincinnati surgeon credited with inventing the lifesaving technique named for him, used it for the first time this week to save a fellow senior center resident who was choking on a hamburger, a center spokesman said on Friday.

Heimlich, who in multiple national television appearances had demonstrated the technique commonly known as the "Heimlich Maneuver" to dislodge food from an airway, had never employed it in an emergency, said spokesman Ken Paley.

But on Monday, Heimlich was sitting at a communal dining table at Cincinnati's Deupree House, an upscale senior living center where he lives, and noticed fellow resident Patty Ris, 87, in distress while eating an open-faced hamburger.

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Heimlich dashed out of his seat, put his arms around her and pressed on her abdomen below the rib cage, following his own instructions, which are displayed on posters required to be displayed in most restaurants in the United States, although some laws have been discontinued.

"After three compressions, this piece of meat came out, and she just started breathing, her whole face changed," Heimlich said in a video interview shared by Paley, vice president of marketing for Episcopal Retirement Services, which operates Deupree House.

"I sort of felt wonderful about it, just having saved that girl," Heimlich said.

"I knew it was working all over the world. I just felt a satisfaction," said Heimlich, who has lived in the 120-apartment complex for six years and swims regularly for exercise.

Ris said she randomly selected the seat in the dining room on Monday because she is a new resident at Deupree.

"When I wrote my 'thank you' note to him for saving my life, I said, 'God put me in that seat next to you, Dr. Heimlich, because I was gone, I couldn't breathe at all,'" Ris said in another video interview shared by Paley.

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Heimlich first described the maneuver in 1974 in Emergency Medicine, and the technique has since become the go-to first aid procedure for someone who is choking.

According to the National Safety Council, choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional injury death in the US.

The Heimlich Maneuver has saved an estimated 50,000 US lives and many, many more worldwide.

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