Cover Story: The Heimlich Maneuver, Drowning and Potsie

Categories: Cover Story
Until a couple months ago, I had no clue that the guy who invented the Heimlich maneuver was still alive. Dr. Henry Heimlich – known as Hank to friends and family – is 87 and lives outside Cincinnati, Ohio. I also didn’t know that his son Peter Heimlich has been waging a years-long campaign to discredit his old man.

And it was news to me that Henry Heimlich spent decades fighting with the medical establishment – he promoted some pretty wacky medical theories, such as injecting AIDS victims with malaria, and performing his famed anti-choking maneuver as a first response for asthma attacks, heart attacks and drowning.

This week’s cover story is about a University of Houston professor of mathematics who trains lifeguards to perform the Heimlich maneuver on drowning victims despite claims from medical experts that it 1) makes no sense scientifically and 2) may prove deadly. John Hunsucker and Henry Heimlich – who met about ten years ago – have taken a lot of flak for their positions. Both have been accused of medical-ethics violations for allegedly conducting human-studies experiments.

Who knew? I sure didn’t.

Here are some other things I learned while researching the story:

--A nugget for movie fans: Ellen Barkin, Halle Berry, Cher, Goldie Hawn, Jack Lemon, Walter Matthau and Elizabeth Taylor all were saved from choking by the Heimlich maneuver.

--A nugget for rock fans: Peter Heimlich, estranged son of the iconic doctor, played bass as a teenager in a Cincy-based punk-rock band called Choke. He later spent years gigging in San Francisco, and even sold a song he wrote to metal queen Lita Ford recorded on her debut album. The tune was called “Rock ‘N Roll Made Me What I Am Today.”

--And a nugget for TV sitcom fans: the world-famous Dr. Henry Heimlich is the second cousin of actor Anson Williams, who played “Potsie” Weber on Happy Days. – Todd Spivak



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