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Dr. Henry Heimlich remembered for life-saving maneuver

Henry Heimlich, the surgeon who created the life-saving Heimlich maneuver for choking victims, passed away Saturday in Cincinnati. 

Dr. Henry Heimlich holds his memoir prior to being interviewed at his home in Cincinnati, Feb. 5, 2014.
Al Behrman/AP/File
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  • Lisa Cornwell
    Associated Press

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

"My father was a great man who saved many lives," said Phil Heimlich, his son. "He will be missed not only by his family but by all of humanity."

Dr. Henry 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.

The Cincinnati chest surgeon told The Associated Press in 2014 that thousands of deaths reported annually from choking prompted him in 1972 to seek a solution. During the next two years, he led a team of researchers at Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati. 

The Wilmington, Del., native estimated that the maneuver has saved the lives of thousands of choking victims in the United States alone. It earned him several awards and worldwide recognition. 

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. He said his memoir was an effort to preserve his technique.

"I'll be the first to admit that a number of my ideas are controversial and in some ways unorthodox," Heimlich told the AP. "But I have enough guts to know that when I am right, it will come about as the thing to do, even if others do the wrong thing for a time."

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

"The best thing about it is that it allows anyone to save a life," Heimlich told the AP.

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

Heimlich attended Cornell University undergraduate and medical schools and interned at Boston City Hospital. During World War II, the U.S. Navy sent him to northwest China in 1942 to treat Chinese and American forces behind Japanese lines in the Gobi Desert.

Beginning in the 1950s, he held staff surgeon positions at New York's Metropolitan Hospital and Montefiore Hospital and Medical Center. He later was an attending surgeon on the staffs at Jewish and Deaconess hospitals in Cincinnati and a researcher at his nonprofit Heimlich Institute.

Heimlich's wife Jane, daughter of the late dance teacher Arthur Murray, died in November 2012. He is survived by two sons and two daughters.

Phil Heimlich said a private family service and burial is planned soon. The family hopes to arrange a public memorial, he added, that will give his father's friends and admirers a chance to pay their respects.

"I know the maneuver saves lives, and I want it to be used and remembered," Heimlich told the AP in 2014. 

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Associated Press writer Dan Sewell contributed in Cincinnati.