Although the backslap was a common response to choking at the time, it sometimes caused an object to become lodged deeper in a victim’s throat. (Heimlich dismissed backslaps as “death blows.”) And physician-inventors had proposed gadgets such as the “Throat-E-Vac” (a vacuum device) and the “ChokeSaver” (nine-inch-long tweezers) without much success. Heimlich knew that air remained in the lungs after an exhalation. That air, he believed, could be used to expel an object. He experimented on an anesthetized beagle and eventually realized that with an upward thrust into the soft tissue under the diaphragm, an object could be dislodged from the throat. The maneuver is elementary, as the doctor wanted it to be. The rescuer stands behind the choking victim, with the rescuer’s arms around the victim’s waist and then delivers a sharp, upward abdominal thrust, just above the belly button. He wrote about the first-aid technique in the June 1974 issue of Emergency Medicine. He explained how the maneuver worked and urged readers to send him success stories. He sent the article to science and health writers in the mainstream media and said that more than 2,000 stories of being saved by the maneuver came back within a year.
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The maneuver was adopted by public health authorities, airlines and restaurant associations, and Heimlich appeared on shows including the “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and “The Today Show.” His views on how the maneuver should be used and on other innovations he created or proposed put him at odds with some in the health field. “I know the maneuver saves lives, and I want it to be used and remembered,” he told the AP. “I felt I had to have it down in print so the public will have the correct information.” The maneuver has continued to make headlines. Clint Eastwood was attending a golf event in Monterey, California, in 2014 when the then-83-year-old actor saw the tournament director choking on a piece of cheese and successfully performed the technique. In 2016, Heimlich himself was the hero, saving a woman choking on food at his senior living center. Heimlich was proud of some of his other innovations, such as a chest drain valve credited by some with saving soldiers and civilians during the Vietnam War. But he drew sharp criticism for his theory that injecting patients with a curable form of malaria could trigger immunity in patients with the HIV virus that causes AIDS. Heimlich mostly brushed off critics. One of his most vocal critics has been his son, Peter Heimlich. The younger Heimlich split with his father years ago over a personal rift. He initially circulated anonymous criticisms of his father before openly speaking out against him online and in media interviews.
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