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Paul Alper writes:

Heimlich who is 96, was in the news lately, saving a woman, 87 years old, using the technique he invented.

So, off to Wikipedia:

Henry Judah Heimlich (born February 3, 1920) is an American thoracic surgeon widely credited as the inventor of the Heimlich maneuver, a technique of abdominal …

where I [Alper] discovered some strange things about his wife:

Heimlich’s wife coauthored a book on homeopathy with Maesimund B. Panos called “Homeopathic Medicine at Home.”[6] She also wrote What Your Doctor Won’t Tell You, which advocates chelation therapy and other alternative therapies.

and kids:

Heimlich and his wife had four children: Phil Heimlich, a former Cincinnati elected official turned conservative Christian radio talk-show host; Peter Heimlich, whose website describes what he alleges to be his father’s “wide-ranging, unseen 50-year history of fraud”

and this:

From the early 1980s, Heimlich advocated malariotherapy, the deliberate infection of a person with benign malaria in order to treat ailments such as cancer, Lyme disease and (more recently) HIV. As of 2009 the treatments were unsuccessful, and attracted criticism as both scientifically unsound and dangerous.[24] The United States Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have rejected malariotherapy and, along with health professionals and advocates for human rights, consider the practice “atrocious”

and this:

Joseph P. Ornato MD, Medical College of Virginia:
“Dr. Heimlich continues to distort, misquote, fabricate, and mislead his peers and the public regarding the scientific ‘evidence’ supporting the safety and efficacy of his (drowning) theory. Dr. Heimlich’s ‘evidence’ consists of unsubstantiated, poorly documented anecdotes. He cites letters to the editor (published in the Journal of the American Medical Association) as though they represented rigorous scientific study.” (August 1992 letter to the American Red Cross as quoted in the Cincinnati Enquirer, May 10, 1993)

Searching to see if you have ever expounded on Heimlich and his research, I found this:

Maksim Gelman, butcher of Brighton Beach: ‘I killed 6 more that no ……/Maksim-Gelman-butcher-Brighton-B…
Jan 16, 2012 – Maksim Gelman, 24, who faces sentencing on Wednesday for murdering … communications and intelligence devices; Dr. Henry Heimlich, 96, …

but for the life of me, Heimlich is missing on that page. Is there any Gelman-Heimlich connection?

My brother Alan is a doctor and he saved a kid from choking once using the Heimlich maneuver. It really happened—I was there! The kid was choking on a piece of meat.

That’s all I’ve got for ya. But the material here is pretty amazing! It doesn’t seem like Heimlich ever let the truth get in the way of self-promotion!


  1. Zak says:

    There was a good Radiolab episode about him a few years ago:

  2. Bob says:

    He also appears to have invented a useful valve for removing air from the chest cavity after a collapsed lung (pneumothorax).



  3. oncodoc says:

    Malaria therapy and other fever inducing treatments were considered quite useful for late stage syphilis in the pre-antibiotic era. Dr. Heimlich may well have been taught about this in medical school in an era when rigorous phase 3 trials with careful statistical analysis were not common. Fever inducing treatments of cancer were also looked at; there was a mix of bacterial antigens known as Coley’s toxin that was in vogue for a time. In the 1970’s when things were a bit scientific pro inflammatory treatments like BCG, a tuberculosis vaccine, were explored. What seems crazy from our perspective may just mark Dr. Heimlich as a man of his era.
    BTW, I greatly appreciate Dr. Gelman’s efforts to keep biomedicine on a scientific track.

    • Eric says:

      One of my favorite odd books is a brief handbook for RNs, from the 1930s, on psychiatric treatment. It has some striking pictures of instruments for opening skulls, and, it has malaria therapy. The theory is, we can’t cure syphilis, but we *can* cure malaria. So, induce malaria; the syphilis organism can’t tolerate the long, high fevers of malaria; and when the syphilis is gone, treat the malaria. Elegant, really.

  4. Paul Alper says:

    Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it is stranger than truth. Andrew’s next-to-last sentence links to:

    “(The Heimlich manoeuvre) has never been used in Australia. Despite the claims of the extremely charismatic Dr. Heimlich, Australian resuscitation experts believe that there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support its use. So how does a medical procedure become so widely adopted without any serious scientific evidence? — The Heimlich manoeuvre by Aviva Ziegler, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, July 27, 2009”

    and to:

    “There was never any evidence here. Heimlich overpowered science all along the way with his slick tactics and intimidation, and everyone, including us at the (American Heart Association) caved in. — Roger White MD, Mayo Clinic from A New Maneuver by Pamela Mills-Senn, Cincinnati Magazine, April 2007”

    If, for example, you think you are familiar with the (true) story of vitamin C and scurvy, read Catherine Price’s book, “Vitamania,” to discover how much you are misinformed. In fact, read her book anyway because it is loaded with insightful details about nutrition, the nutrition industry and clinical trials.

    • Andrew says:


      My brother really did use the maneuver to dislodge a piece of meat from a teenager’s throat. That said, I guess that doesn’t demonstrate the method “works,” as it’s possible that the choking could’ve been resolved in some other way, and it’s also possible that, on balance, the maneuver hurts more people than it helps.

    • Rahul says:

      That’s the part I don’t get. Sure there’s evidence: Andrew saw it done. I trust Andrew. Many other people have reported using it successfully. So obviously it works *some* of the time.

      Is an RCT the only kind of evidence? Unless there’s evidence (from another RCT?) that the Heimlich maneuver is more likely to hurt than save why should we criticize using it?

      Just because we lack RCT evidence is it wrong to use a strategy that seems to make sense and anecdotally works? Why don’t we turn the tables around and demand evidence that it actually is negative on a cost-benefit analysis?

      PS. I’m curious, what do the Australians do when they see someone choking?

      • Andrew says:


        Remember: causal statements are always in comparison to some alternative. Yes, my brother did the Heimlich maneuver and the kid is alive today. But we don’t know what would’ve happened under the alternative. Maybe my brother would’ve reached in and dislodged the tomato, or maybe the kid would’ve coughed it up on his own. Meanwhile, somewhere else, perhaps someone tried the Heimlich maneuver and ruptured someone’s spleen or whatever. Who knows? That’s why these treatments get studied systematically.

        • Rahul says:

          Right. But is there a study that tells me that reaching in is safer and more effective as the Heimlich? Or something like that?

          Tell we have that, all we have is intuition & anecdotes to base our strategy on.

          But just because we don’t have a systematic study doesn’t mean we should discard all non-systematic advice.

      • Llewelyn Richards-Ward says:

        Cough! Fact-checking please!!! We antipodeans are more worried about snakes sharks, heat etc etc — everything here can kill you. But, if someone chokes, the Heimlich-ish compression is on the list, actually.

  5. An aside: I was reminded of Freud’s essay “The Uncanny,” where he discusses the two contrasting meanings of “heimlich”:

    1. Familiar, tame, belonging to the home;
    2. Concealed, kept from sight, deceitful.

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