The now-96-year-old told the Cincinnati Enquirer Thursday that his rescuing of a fellow resident of the Deupree House senior living facility on Monday was the first time he has ever had the opportunity to use his namesake maneuver on a live choking victim.
Witnesses told the Enquirer that Heimlich jumped into action when 87-year-old Patty Ris began choking on her dinner.
“I saw someone standing behind her as she sat down,” said Perry Gaines, a maitre d’ in the facility’s dining room. “Sometimes residents try to help in medical situations but we tend to discourage it. But I noticed it was Dr. Heimlich and he was doing the maneuver … I stepped back and let Dr. Heimlich continue on.”
Gaines said that after Heimlich’s first attempt, Ris was able to cough up some of the food. However, when he noticed she was still having trouble breathing, Heimlich stood up and repeated the maneuver, this time successfully.
“When I saw Dr. Heimlich doing his own maneuver, I knew it was historic,” Gaines said. “At his age, that’s a very physical type of activity. To see him do it is a fascinating thing. The whole dining room, you could hear a needle drop.”
Heimlich also reflected on the event to the Enquirer.
“When I used it and she recovered quickly, it made me appreciate how wonderful it has been to be able to save all those lives,” he said.
However, despite his claim that this was his first use of the procedure, Heimlich has previously spoken to the media about utilizing the Heimlich Maneuver to save a live choking victim.
“I was in this club restaurant eating when I heard someone calling, ‘Dr. Heimlich!’ I turned around and saw a man choking so I did the Heimlich Maneuver and got it out and then went on and had my lunch,” Heimlich told the BBC in 2003.
Whether this was Heimlich’s first use of the maneuver or not, there’s no denying that it has saved countless lives since he first introduced it in an Emergency Medicine article in 1974.