Henry Heimlich, the doctor who invented the Heimlich maneuver, was in the news again last week when he used his namesake technique to help a choking victim in the senior residence where he lives.
It was a touching story, but also a reminder that this would be a good time to brush up on our knowledge of how to perform this life-saving method. Especially on Memorial Day, when food is aplenty, because choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths, according to the National Safety Council.
We asked Dr. Stephen Dunlop at Hennepin County Medical Center for some tips on how to administer the maneuver:
• First, assess the situation.
“One of the most important things about choking, in general, is that if someone can cough and can make noise, the best thing to do is to encourage them to keep coughing,” he said. “If they look like they’re struggling, if they stop making noise, or if they start to change color, that would be the time to take action.”
• Tell someone to call 911. Time is of essence in choking emergencies.
• Stand directly behind the person, and let them know what you are doing so as not to increase feelings of panic.
• Take your dominant hand and make a fist. Place the thumb side of the fist halfway between the person’s belly button and sturnum. Then take your other hand and grab your own fist.
• Do firm, inward and upward thrusts with your hand to help dislodge the object that is blocking the person’s airway. Dunlop advises to start with moderate pressure, but if that isn’t working, get more aggressive to expel the food.
• Continue to perform the Heimlich maneuver until the situation is resolved or it changes. For example, if all of a sudden they’re moving air and are coughing again, then stop and let them keep coughing. Or if they become unconscious, lay them down and start chest compressions, he said.
While the Heimlich maneuver is effective, it generally should be avoided on young children and pregnant women, Dunlop said. He recommends using back slaps for kids when it is clear that their airway is blocked and chest compressions, akin to CPR, for pregnant women.
Heimlich invented the abdominal thrusting method for aiding choking victims in the 1970s. Although he has demonstrated it many times over the years — including famously on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” — he never had used it in a real emergency situation until last week.
The 96-year-old surgeon was sitting in the dining room of his Cincinatti senior living complex when he noticed a woman choking. He performed the method on the 87-year-old woman, who coughed up a piece of hamburger.
“To Your Health” offers quick doses of health news several times a week.