This weekend Dr. Henry Heimlich, inventor of the Heimlich Maneuver, died at the age of 96. He served in the Navy during WWII and later became a thoracic surgeon in New York City. He developed the life saving method in 1974. Initially there was tremendous skepticism about the maneuver, but in time the procedure became accepted around the world as the safest means for helping someone who was choking.
The Heimlich Maneuver is reported to have saved 50,000 lives. Well Dr. Heimlich, make that 50,001. This past Friday, Georgeann and I were having lunch at the Bauer House with Diana and Todd Maclin, two great friends of UT. As I was eating my steak salad, I suddenly began to choke. I tried to clear the obstruction, but it only made it worse. Pushing away from the table, I got up and staggered toward the kitchen hoping to avoid too much embarrassment. As I took a few steps I realized I couldn’t breath. Whatever had lodged in my throat was now cutting off my airway. Bent over in distress, I signaled for help.
I got exactly the help I needed because Todd, like millions of other people, is trained in the Heimlich maneuver! He calmly approached me from behind, and wrapped his arms around me till his hands were at the bottom of my ribcage. Making a fist with his right hand and clasping it with his left, he pulled hard with a jerking motion. On the second attempt, the food, which had been stuck in my throat, came flying out. It was a piece of hard lettuce. Lettuce. Not steak. In some bizarre way, the hard lettuce had managed to perfectly embed itself right where I couldn’t breathe.
After a few moments, we continued on with lunch. Todd informed me that it’s the second time he has used the maneuver to save someone from choking. Needless to say, I was thankful that Dr. Heimlich had invented his famed maneuver and that my lunch guest had the confidence, the composure and the know-how to use it.
My life has been filled with near-death experiences; parachuting, diving, climbing, flying and being in a war zone have all had their moments. I never expected that a small piece of leafy greenery could have been my demise.
As Christmas approaches, remember that life is fragile. None of us knows the day and time of our final moments. Never miss an opportunity to help others. Never miss an opportunity to make a difference. Had it not been for Henry Heimlich and Todd Maclin, my Christmas could have been much, much different.