Intended for healthcare professionals


Henry Heimlich

BMJ 2017; 356 doi: (Published 09 January 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;356:j118
  1. Bob Roehr

Creator of the eponymous manoeuvre

Credit: Gene Arias/NBC

Addison, Alzheimer, Creutzfeldt-Jakob, Parkinson, Tourette—the literature is replete with the names of those who made important medical contributions. Most are affixed to conditions for which diagnosis brings dread, a realisation that even the most skilled healer can do little to ameliorate the condition or its course.

Henry Heimlich was a happy exception in this pantheon. The inventor of the Heimlich manoeuvre created a phrase and procedure that quickly entered the popular lexicon and everyday life, saving thousands in the process. Unlike so much of modern medicine, it worked quickly and cheaply. It didn’t rely on expertise but simple training of the public and a modicum of awareness to recognise that someone was choking. The cost was minimal—it was arguably the cheapest and most effective contribution to modern medicine—and perhaps the only rival to vaccination. It brought joy, not grief. The wonder was that it had not been developed and popularised sooner.

Heimlich was born in Delaware but grew up in New Rochelle, a prosperous suburb just north …

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