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Dr. Henry Heimlich, Inventor of Heimlich Maneuver, Dies at 96: Family

The surgeon who created the life-saving Heimlich maneuver for choking victims died early Saturday in Cincinnati. Dr. Henry Heimlich was 96.

His son, Phil, said he died at Christ Hospital after suffering a heart attack earlier in the week.

"My father was a great man who saved many lives," said Heimlich, an attorney and former Hamilton County commissioner. "He will be missed not only by his family but by all of humanity."

Dr. Henry Heimlich
Dr. Henry Heimlich describes the maneuver he developed to help clear obstructions from the windpipes of choking victims, while being interviewed at his home in Cincinnati in 2014. Al Behrman / AP file

Heimlich was director of surgery at Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati in 1974 when he devised the treatment for choking victims that made his name a household word.

Rescuers using the procedure abruptly squeeze a victim's abdomen, pushing in and above the navel with the fist to create a flow of air from the lungs. That flow of air then can push objects out of the windpipe and prevent suffocation.

Much of Heimlich's 2014 autobiography focuses on the maneuver, which involves thrusts to the abdomen that apply upward pressure on the diaphragm to create an air flow that forces food or other objects out of the windpipe.

The Cincinnati chest surgeon told The Associated Press in a February 2014 interview that thousands of deaths reported annually from choking prompted him in 1972 to seek a solution.

The maneuver was adopted by public health authorities, airlines and restaurant associations, and Heimlich appeared on shows including the "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" and "The Today Show."

His views on how the maneuver should be used and on other innovations he created or proposed put him at odds with some in the health field.

"I know the maneuver saves lives, and I want it to be used and remembered," he told the AP. "I felt I had to have it down in print so the public will have the correct information."

The maneuver has continued to make headlines. Clint Eastwood was attending a golf event in Monterey, California, in 2014 when the then-83-year-old actor saw the tournament director choking on a piece of cheese and successfully performed the technique.

In 2016, Heimlich himself was the hero, saving a woman choking on food at his senior living center.

Heimlich was proud of some of his other innovations, such as a chest drain valve credited by some with saving soldiers and civilians during the Vietnam War. But he drew sharp criticism for his theory that injecting patients with a curable form of malaria could trigger immunity in patients with the HIV virus that causes AIDS.

Heimlich mostly brushed off critics.

One of his most vocal critics has been his son, Peter Heimlich. The younger Heimlich split with his father years ago over a personal rift. He initially circulated anonymous criticisms of his father before openly speaking out against him online and in media interviews.

Peter Heimlich has called many of his father's theories dangerous and spent years challenging many of his claims and trying to discredit them. The elder Heimlich maintained that his relationship with his son was a family matter refused to comment on it to the media.