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Henry Jay Heimlich MD (born Henry Judah Heimlich, 3 February 1920), an American physician, has received credit as the inventor of abdominal thrusts known as the Heimlich maneuver, though debate continues over his role in the development of the procedure. Heimlich also advocates the controversial and unproven use of malaria to treat HIV.

Personal life

Heimlich, born in Wilmingtonmarker, Delawaremarker to Philip and Mary (Epstein) Heimlich, graduated from New Rochelle High Schoolmarker (NY) in 1937 and from Cornell Universitymarker (where he served as drum major of the Cornell Big Red Marching Band) with a B.A. in 1941. He received his M.D. from the Weill Cornell Medical College in 1943. On 4 June 1951, Heimlich married Jane Murray, daughter of ballroom-dancing entrepreneur Arthur Murray. Heimlich's wife co-authored a book on homeopathy and herself wrote What Your Doctor Won't Tell You, which advocated chelation therapy and other alternative therapies.

Heimlich and his wife have four children: Phil Heimlich, a former Cincinnatimarker elected official turned conservative Christian radio talk-show host; Peter Heimlich, whose website documents what he calls his father's "wide-ranging, unseen 50-year history of fraud"; Janet Heimlich, a freelance reporter; and Elisabeth Heimlich.

The Heimlich maneuver

Heimlich first published his views about the maneuver in a June 1974 informal article in Emergency Medicine entitled, "Pop Goes the Cafe Coronary". On 19 June 1974, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that retired restaurant-owner Isaac Piha used the procedure to rescue a choking-victim, Irene Bogachus, in Bellevuemarker, Washingtonmarker.

From 1976 to 1985 the choking-rescue guidelines of the American Heart Association and of the American Red Cross taught rescuers to first perform a series of backblows to remove the FBAO (foreign body airway obstruction); if backblows failed, then rescuers learned to proceed with the Heimlich maneuver (aka "abdominal thrusts"). After a July 1985 American Heart Association conference, backblows disappeared from choking-rescue guidelines. From 1986 to 2005 the published guidelines of the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross recommended only the Heimlich maneuver as the treatment for choking.

The choking-rescue guidelinespublished by the American Heart Association ceased referring to "the Heimlich maneuver" and instead called the procedure "abdominal thrusts". The new guidelines stated that chest thrusts and back blows may also deal with choking effectively.

In Spring 2006 the American Red Cross "downgraded" the use of the Heimlich maneuver, essentially returning to the pre-1986 guidelines. For conscious victims, the new guidelines (nicknamed "the five and five"), recommend first applying five backblows; if this method fails to remove the airway obstruction, rescuers will then apply five abdominal thrusts. For unconscious victims, the new guidelines recommend chest thrusts, a method first recommended in a 1976 study by Charles Guildner, with results duplicated in a year 2000 study by Audun Langhelle. The 2006 guidelines also eliminated the phrase "Heimlich maneuver" and replaced it with "abdominal thrust".

Allegations of case fraud have dogged Heimlich's promotion of abdominal thrusts as a treatment for drowning.The 2005 drowning rescue guidelines of the American Heart Association did not include citations of Heimlich's work and warn against the use of the Heimlich maneuver for drowning rescue as unproven and dangerous, due to its risk of vomiting leading to aspiration.

In 2003 Heimlich's colleague Dr. Edward Patrick issued a press-release portraying himself as the uncredited co-developer of the maneuver."'I would like to get proper credit for what I've done...but I'm not hyper about it.'"

Heimlich valve

In 1963, Heimlich introduced a chest drainage valve flutter valve (also called the Heimlich valve.) He claims his inspiration came from seeing a Chinesemarker soldier die from a bullet wound to the chest during World War II. The design of the valve allows air and blood to drain from a collapsed lung.


From the early 1980s Heimlich advocated malariotherapy, the deliberate infection of a person with malaria in order to treat ailments such as cancer, Lyme disease and (more ) HIV. the treatments have proven unsuccessful, and have attracted criticism as both scientifically unsound and dangerous. 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". Sources have disclosed that the Heimlich Institute, a subsidiary of Deaconess Associations of Cincinnati, is conducting malariotherapy trials in Ethiopiamarker, though the Ethiopian Ministry of Health was unaware of any such trials. Reportedly the trials were supervised by Mekbib Wondewassen, an Ethiopian immigrant who works as a car rental agent in the San Francisco area. Heimlich claims that his initial trials with seven subjects produced positive results, but he has refused to provide details. The experiments have no institutional review board oversight.

Studies in Africa, where both HIV and malaria occur commonly, indicate that malaria/HIV co-infection increases viral load and that malaria could increase the rate of spread of HIV as well as accelerating disease progression. Based on such studies, Paul Farmer at Harvard Medical School described the idea of treating HIV with malaria by stating “it seems improbable. The places where malaria takes its biggest toll are precisely those in which HIV reaps its grim harvest”.


  1. Hard Truths, with Phil Heimlich
  2. Outmaneuvered: How We Busted the Heimlich Medical Frauds
  3. Heimlich's son cites Dallas case in dispute. Wilkes-Barre News, August 22, 2007

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