A fateful meal

Henry Heimlich, 96, right, and his son, Phil Heimlich, 63.
Henry Heimlich, 96, right, and his son, Phil Heimlich, 63.

Just more than a week before the annual Heimlich Maneuver Day, the 96-year-old inventor of the 42-year-old technique reportedly used it for the first time in a real choking incident and saved the life of a fellow resident at his senior living community.

Henry Heimlich, who lives at Deupree House, an Episcopal Retirement Services continuing care retirement / life plan community in Cincinnati, was dining Monday when he noticed that a woman at his table was choking.

“I ordered a hamburger, and the next thing I knew, I couldn't breathe because I was choking so hard,” said Patty Ris, 87.

Ris (pictured) is relatively new to the community and just happened to sit at Heimlich's table. “When I wrote my thank you note to him for saving my life, I said, ‘God put me in that seat right next to you, Dr. Heimlich, so you could save my life,' because I was gone. I couldn't breathe for a long time,” she said.

Perry Gaines, the community's kitchen manager, said, “I felt like I was on stage. Everyone stopped eating, and everyone was looking at Dr. Heimlich and the maneuver that he was doing. It was totally quiet in the dining room at that time. I'd never seen that before.”

Once Heimlich dislodged the food from Ris' airway, Gaines said, everyone at the table resumed eating.

“I sort of felt wonderful about it, just having saved that girl,” Heimlich said when asked how he felt after the incident.

Heimlich's 63-year-old son, Phil, said that although his father had demonstrated his maneuver before, he'd never actually performed it on someone who was choking.

“When you think about it, for any 96-year-old guy, to be able to get up, react and perform a first aid measure is pretty impressive, but for the guy who invented it to actually do it is just incredible,” he said.

Phil Heimlich praised Deupree House for helping his father stay physically active. Henry Heimlich, he said, swims every other day and participates in an exercise class at the community. “So I think it paid off,” the younger Heimlich said.

Henry Heimlich is an independent living resident at Deupree House.

The younger Heimlich encouraged people to learn how to perform properly the maneuver invented by his father in 1974. Henry Heimlich maintains a website that explains the technique. Parents, teachers and others can register children for the Heimlich Heroes program at a different website, Phil Heimlich said.

Heimlich Maneuver Day is June 1.

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