On May 23, 2016, residents of the Deupree House retirement home in Cincinnati, Ohio, were having dinner. 87-year-old Patty Ris, a new resident at the retirement home, randomly selected an open seat at a table with several other people. The residents at Patty’s table were fully engaged in conversation in between bites of food when 96-year-old Henry turned to speak to Patty. Henry immediately realized that something was wrong. Patty’s skin color was no longer pink. “Her mouth was puffed up and her lips were out,” Henry explained later. Patty’s eyes were wide. She was beginning to panic because she was choking.
No one else at the table had realized that Patty was in distress. Henry had never performed the Heimlich Maneuver on a choking victim, but there was no time to wait for anyone else. In an instant, Henry turned Patty in her chair so that he could perform the Heimlich Maneuver.
The Heimlich Maneuver was introduced in 1974 and quickly spread throughout the world. According to one estimate, the technique has “saved the lives of more than 100,000 in the United States alone.” It is mandatory training for most emergency medical personnel, policemen, firemen, etc. Some people you may have heard of whose lives were saved by the Heimlich Maneuver include Marlene Dietrich, Goldie Hawn, Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, Carrie Fisher, Cher, Simon Cowell, former New York mayor Edward Koch, and former President of the United States Ronald Reagan. In 2014, Clint Eastwood reportedly used the Heimlich Maneuver to save the life of a golf tournament director.
Staff from the retirement home rushed to the table, but saw that Henry, a retired doctor, seemed to have the situation under control. Henry was far from the feeble old man that you might expect a 96-year-old person to be. His routine included swimming and other exercises. Henry was fit.
“I did it three times,” Henry said, “and a piece of meat with a bone in it came flying out of her mouth and she was alright.” Patty’s color quickly returned to normal. Henry became something of a celebrity following his use of the Heimlich maneuver. “I sort of felt wonderful about it,” Henry said, “just having saved that girl. I knew it was working all over the world. I just felt satisfaction.”
In a thank you note to Henry, Patty wrote, “God put me in that seat next to you… I was gone, I couldn’t breathe at all.” Henry told reporters, “I didn’t know I really could do it until the other day”, the day he saved Patty’s life. You see, Henry, who had never used the technique to save a life, created the Heimlich Maneuver. His name was Dr. Henry Heimlich.
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