Heimlich Warns Red Cross About Backslap Recommendation to Aid Choking Victims

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Dr. Henry Heimlich, inventor of the Heimlich maneuver, which has saved many thousands of choking victims' lives since 1974, reminds the public that backslaps only lodge food deeper and tighter in the airway. He challenges the American Red Cross to either provide the medical evidence that proves backslaps help choking victims, or change its training materials and first aid instructions.

Dr. Henry Heimlich

"“The American Red Cross is teaching hundreds, maybe thousands of people each year to use the backslap first,” said Heimlich. “That is both detrimental and deadly. There is no known report or study of backslaps saving a choking person.”

Dr. Henry J. Heimlich, the Cincinnati physician who invented the Heimlich maneuver, which has saved many thousands of choking victims worldwide since 1974, reminds the public that the Heimlich maneuver—not backslaps-- is the only way to successfully save the life of a choking victim.

“Because people can access information effortlessly on the internet, false information can be readily disseminated as well as true information,” said Heimlich, founder and president of the Heimlich Institute.

He warns against the use of backslaps to aid choking victims. Medical history from the 17th century proves that back blows tend to lodge food tighter and deeper in the airway, causing imminent death.                                                                                                             

The American Red Cross (ARC) promotes the use of five backslaps first, then five “abdominal thrusts” to a choking victim.                                                                         

“The American Red Cross is teaching hundreds, maybe thousands of people each year to use the backslap first,” said Heimlich. “That is both detrimental and deadly. There is no known report or study of backslaps saving a choking person.”

He challenges the ARC to either provide the medical research to prove that backslaps work for choking victims, or amend its literature and websites to reflect accurate medical information—and save more lives in the process.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported this week that the Red Cross is studying the issue.

Accidental choking deaths claim the lives of 2,500 people per year in the U.S. and are the third leading cause of accidental home and community deaths in the nation, according to the National Safety Council, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to saving lives by preventing injuries and deaths at work, in homes and communities.

It only takes four minutes for a choking victim to experience asphyxia, brain damage and death. Administering four or five backslaps to a choking victim before administering the Heimlich maneuver wastes valuable time, said Heimlich. That’s why it’s imperative that a first responder immediately perform the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge food from a choking victim’s airway.

The Heimlich maneuver requires the rescuer to stand behind the victim, put his or her arms around the choking person, and place the thumb side of one fist between the navel and just under the rib cage. Then the rescuer presses the fist inward and upward.

The action, when applied correctly, pushes the diaphragm inward and upward. This action compresses the lungs, which causes a substantial flow of air through the airway and out the mouth, expelling the choking object and saving the victim’s life.

Every day, all over the world, there are reports of people being saved from a choking death by using the Heimlich maneuver. There is no known report of a backslap saving a choking victim. A Google Alert search of the term “Heimlich maneuver” brings up several independent instances per week of people worldwide who have saved choking victims’ lives by using the maneuver.                                                                                                                                

In the spring of 2012, then Cincinnati Reds rookie Todd Frazier correctly performed the Heimlich maneuver on a man choking in a Pittsburgh restaurant. His life was saved. A child as young as four years old has used the maneuver successfully—taught to him earlier by his fireman father—on his two-year-old sister, saving her life.

The Heimlich Institute is now teaching middle schoolers across the nation the correct way to perform the Heimlich maneuver through its Heimlich Heroes program.

ARC leadership has been criticized in recent years on other fronts besides its promotion of the backslap. The ARC has been fined $47 million since 2003 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), according to the Nonprofit Times, a leading business publication for nonprofit management.                                                                                                                        

The latest penalty was in January of 2012 for $9.6 million for “sloppy and unsafe blood management practices,” according to JoNel Allecia, health writer and editor for msnbc.com. The ARC owns about half of the blood and plasma centers nationwide and earns about $2 billion a year from them.

In 1979, writer Jean Carper of the Washington Post wrote of a choking experience she had in a New York restaurant and outlined the struggle Heimlich was undergoing then with the ARC and its recommendations of backslaps. At the time, the ARC stated that it based its recommendations for choking first aid on medical advice from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

In this age of deep-pockets liability, the ARC may be opening itself up for future litigation if it continues to push backslaps for choking victims. Carper also described in the April 22, 1979 article that a Harrisburg, Penn. teenager’s family was awarded $352,000 in 1978 when a teacher at a Harrisburg school responded to him choking on a peanut butter sandwich by slapping him on the back. The food became lodged in the boy’s throat, and he went into a coma which had lasted four years by the time the column was written. Carper said the lawsuit alleged that the school was “negligent in not instructing teachers the latest first-aid, including the Heimlich maneuver.”

Thirty-four years later, an Institute of Medicine spokesperson, which is the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, said the agency has not been asked by Congress or a private foundation to study choking and its first aid recommendations.

“I’ve never read of one person being saved from choking by the administration of backslaps from 1933 to today,” Heimlich said. “For 80 years, only the Red Cross has claimed that backslaps can save lives. Yet children are saving children every day with the correct administration of the Heimlich maneuver. None of the articles we see on a daily basis mention backslaps at all.                                                                                                                                  

“We in the medical community and its supporting first aid education associations have a responsibility to save peoples’ lives by giving people correct information. With the ease of the internet, it becomes even more imperative to provide and distribute the correct information.                                                                                                                            

“When people use the backslap, they kill choking victims or cause brain damage because until the Heimlich maneuver is used, their oxygen has been cut off.”.

The Heimlich Institute is dedicated to help people use the creative portion of their minds in medicine and life.

For more information about the Heimlich Institute, go to http://www.HeimlichInstitute.org or call (513) 559-2100.

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Contact: Patrick Ward
Phone: (513) 559- 2664

The Heimlich Institute was founded by Dr. Henry J. Heimlich in New York in the 1960s, and moved to Cincinnati in 1998.

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