In his career as a chest surgeon, Henry Heimlich invented techniques and devices that have saved thousands of lives, but it’s only as a near-centenarian he’s used the most famous – the Heimlich maneuver – to save one of his own.
The 96-year-old Cincinnati resident recently performed the maneuver in his senior living center, where a fellow resident began choking on a piece of hamburger.
The episode gave the Bronx Jewish-born Heimlich a renewed appreciation for his own accomplishments. “When I used it, and she recovered quickly,” he told the Cincinnati Enquirer, “it made me appreciate how wonderful it has been to save all those lives.”
To many, Heimlich, who also invented the Heimlich valve, an instrument for draining chest wounds, is a medical hero. In later life, however, he’s faced allegations of malpractice, many given their most prominent voice by Peter Heimlich, one of Heimlich’s four children, and controversy over his late-career work in pursuing mild inoculation with malaria as a preventative measure against AIDS.
Complicated legacy aside, one fact remains indisputable: Heimlich’s use of Heimlich means one Cincinnati resident will live to eat another hamburger. That’s a good reason for all of us to exhale.
Talya Zax is the Forward’s culture intern. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @TalyaZax