Outmaneuvered: How we busted the Heimlich medical frauds

                         

Updated June 20, 2014

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What the experts say about Peter & Karen's work
I've been investigating medical fraud and quackery for 25 years. Peter Heimlich and his wife Karen uncovered the biggest case I've ever seen -- Robert S. Baratz MD PhD, National Council Against Health Fraud

Your crusade is a major plus for medicine and for the American public. So, as a member of both communities, I thank you -- Alan Steinman MD MPH, Rear Admiral (ret.) US Coast Guard, author, US Coast Guard water safety manual

Peter Heimlich has worked tirelessly to uncover a fascinating, yet little known chapter of medical history, one with as much human intrigue as you would expect from a John LeCarre novel -- Charles W. Guildner MD (ret), former consultant, American Heart Association

Peter Heimlich's relentless and successful effort to expose the truth has been an inspiration to lifesavers everywhere -- B. Chris Brewster, President, US Lifesaving Association

You have the soul of an investigative reporter -- Rhonda Schwartz, ABC News Senior Investigative Producer, in a Spring 2007 phone call with Peter

I applaud your commitment to continuing to clear up these issues -- Michelle Jantz, Manager, Operations and Program Administration, Preparedness and Health and Safety, American Red Cross, Washington DC



Click the photo for Thomas Francis's landmark Heimlich expose in Radar Magazine, all about my father's bizarre career -- and why we exposed him   

 
Outmaneuvered: How we busted the Heimlich medical frauds


by Peter M. Heimlich (bio and contact info)

Please do not understand me too quickly -- Andre Gide

Better not to begin. Once you begin, better to finish it. (source)


Perhaps the most challenging question raised by my story is one that confronts most people in one form or another: When we become aware of wrongdoing committed by a family member, how do we choose to respond? -- Peter


(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


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


Those organizations that originally advocated adoption of the (Heimlich maneuver) on such shaky grounds, albeit with reservations, cannot be held entirely blameless for what followed. The wave of publicity given the measure by well intentioned, but uncritical, persons has been remarkable...The maneuver is so well fixed in the public mind as the only solution for foreign body airway obstruction that to correct the situation would be like trying to recover the contents of a feather pillow released from a church steeple. -- Joseph S. Redding MD, The choking controversy: critique of evidence on the Heimlich maneuver, Critical Care Medicine, October 1979


The "malariotherapy" experiments in China, conducted for over a decade by Dr. (Xiaoping) Chen in conjunction with Cincinnati's Heimlich Institute, have been called "atrocities" by the World Health Organization. Medical experts have condemned the work as "charlatanism of the highest order." Research subjects included prisoners who were controlled by hired guards. In one case, a woman with full-blown AIDS, suffering from pneumonia and hooked up to oxygen, was infected with malaria. -- Peter quoted in St. Louis University Under Fire for Work with Doctor Who Infected AIDS Patients with Malaria by Sam Levin, Riverfront Times, September 9, 2013


If (Dr.) Heimlich is really doing this, he should be put in jail -- Mark Harrington, executive director of Treatment Action Group re: the Heimlich Institute's "malariotherapy" experiments in which Chinese AIDS patients were infected with malaria from Heimlich maneuvers into AIDS therapy, CNN/Reuters, April 14, 2003

In Spring 2002, my wife Karen and I began researching the career of my father, Dr. Henry J. Heimlich of Cincinnati, famous for the "Heimlich maneuver" choking rescue method.

Via a November 2005 Radar Magazine article, here's what triggered our interest:
For the first 48 years of his life Peter distanced himself from his father's career and celebrity. A year or two might slip by between calls from his parents. But in 2001, Peter says, he learned of serious health problems in his family. He refuses to say what those problems were, but he insists he was appalled to learn that his father was refusing to address them.

"My father's the great Dr. Lifesaver," Peter says bitterly. "How could he have let this happen?" When he tried to get the facts, he says, his father hung up on him and his mother wouldn't respond to his letters.


Peter and Karen began to wonder whether there were other family secrets worth looking into as well.
To our astonishment, we inadvertently uncovered a wide-ranging, unseen 50-year history of fraud.
Our research revealed my father to be a spectacular con man and serial liar, arguably one of history's most successful - and destructive - medical humbugs. Armed with considerable charm and an instinct for public relations, my father used the media to pass himself off as a medical genius/inventor and humanitarian, eventually being crowned "America's most famous doctor" (The New Republic).

Contrary to his public image, my father was an incompetent surgeon - fired for misconduct from his last medical job in 1977 - who appropriated ideas from other doctors and attached his name to them. Facts indicate that he probably didn't even invent what came to be known as "the Heimlich maneuver." As I told a reporter, "I don't think my father invented anything but his own mythology."



Click here to read the entire article


Nevertheless, because he was a medical "brand name," for decades the media - especially in Cincinnati where he was a local celebrity - gave him endless opportunities to relentlessly circulate a string of crackpot medical treatments.




Perhaps the most bizarre is "malariotherapy," a quack cure for AIDS, cancer, and Lyme Disease that consists of infecting patients with malaria. For decades Cincinnati's nonprofit Heimlich Institute funded and oversaw a series of illicit offshore experiments on U.S. citizens and foreign nationals. Via the Cincinnati Enquirer:
(Dr. Heimlich's) experiments - which seek to destroy HIV, the AIDS-causing virus, by inducing high malarial fevers- have been criticized by the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration and condemned by other health professionals and human rights advocates as a medical "atrocity.''
Per this ABC7 Chicago I-Team report, since 2005 the Heimlich Institute has been nothing but a website which, until recently, aggressively promoted the Heimlich maneuver as a cure-all for drowning, asthma, cystic fibrosis, even heart attacks:




All of these treatments have been thoroughly discredited by medical experts as useless and potentially lethal. For example, the use of the Heimlich maneuver to resuscitate drowning victims has been warned against as useless and potentially lethal by the National Academy of Sciences, the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, the US Department of Health and Human Services, and other organizations. Nevertheless, for decades the Heimlich Institute put the public at risk by promoting this and my father's other dangerous medical recommendations.

As we came to understand, my father simply dreamed up these claims, then promoted them in journals and the popular media using evidence that ranged from shabby to fraudulent. For example, we researched a string of case reports in which he claimed drowning victims had been miraculously revived by the Heimlich maneuver. They're all phony. The results? Dozens of serious injuries and deaths, including children.

We also learned that, because of his delusional claims and unethical conduct, my father had long been an outcast in the medical profession. Nevertheless, for decades the popular press continued to portray him as a medical icon and provided him with a media platform to promote his unfounded, dangerous claims. 

I was long aware that my father suffered from some sort of extreme narcissism that manifested itself as an unquenchable need for adulation and endlessly talking about his accomplishments. For example, take a look at this unusual  infomercial-style biography in which my father holds court as my mother (the late Jane Murray Heimlich), my sisters, my aunt (his sister), and others "pay tribute" to my father:




I also knew that behind a public mask that exuded sincerity and enthusiasm, my father had extreme mood swings and an explosive temper. He lied easily and was a serial adulterer throughout the decades of marriage to my mother, an heiress who financially supported him through most of his career. (My mother, a freelance writer who advocated quack medicine, described some of my father's philandering in her 2010 memoir.


But I'd never paid any attention to my father's work. I'd always assumed he was a "medical genius" as he was portrayed for decades in hundreds of media reports.   

Then at age 48, as a result of our research I came to realize everything I knew was wrong and that my father's thinking was seriously disordered, a condition that made him a danger to others and to himself.


Karen and I didn't want anyone else to be harmed -- especially kids who might be future "Heimlich for drowning" statistics -- so in 2002 we decided to bring the facts to public attention via the Internet and the media in order to expose the "poison ideas" circulated by my father and the Heimlich Institute (which, at the time, intended to promote his dangerous claims "in perpetuity
").


Since then,
numerous broadcast and print media stories based on our research have been reported, including this ABC 20/20 expose by Brian Ross.




As the critical stories began appearing, for the most part my father hid, refusing to defend his work to the medical profession or to reporters.
Instead, my father enlisted my older brother Phil and my younger sister Janet to defend him.

Phil -- a failed elected official who now runs a bedbug detection business -- became a "born again" Christian right around the time a close friend was convicted and went to federal prison for five years in a massive prescription narcotics operation in Detroit. At the time, my brother says he had a religious epiphany in a Big Boy hamburger restaurant.

Janet -- a freelance writer concerned about male circumcision -- wrote a book about relgious child abuse which neglected to mention that our brother Phil is associated with millionaire evangelist Bill Gothard, whose ministry has been the subject of media reports about alleged child abuse. In March 2014, Gothard resigned in the wake of abuse allegations.


Without ever attempting to contact me or Karen, Phil & Janet joined forces and began making false and defamatory personal attacks against me which, per this Cincinnati newspaper article, resulted in me taking legal action.

Why were my siblings willing to put their reputations on the line to defend our father's dangerous medical claims and to go on the warpath against me without even trying to contact me or my wife?

For one thing, they live off of our parents' money, most of which was inherited from my mother's father, dance studio mogul Arthur Murray. Also, for decades, my brother has been the vice president of the Heimlich Institute -- and my father's errand boy/hatchet man.

In addition to protecting their source of income, presumably they were also worried about me bringing to light family medical problems to which I alluded in Radar Magazine and the Portland Tribune as well as my father's history of associating with doctors who lost their medical licenses and went to jail for the excessive prescribing of narcotics, one of whom is a longtime, close friend of my brother's.

Meanwhile, my father's attorney employed a private detective to snoop on me and a Cincinnati PR flak was hired to trash me in news stories.

Now-disgraced "super lawyer" Stan Chesley even got into the act, sending Karen and me a couple of lame proffer letters. (We didn't respond.)


There were also some dodgy reporters. For example, a political writer named Jason Zengerle set out to write a smear article about me for The New Yorker, but editor Amy Davidson smelled a rat and spiked his story. Later I learned why Zengerle, who works for The New Republic magazine, targeted me. Click here for more details. 

Despite the bumps along the way, with the invaluable help of some fine people who recognized the importance of our efforts, Karen and I persevered and accomplished much of what we set out to do.


For example,
as reported by the Houston Press, on about May 15, 2012, about ten years after we began researching my father's career:

(The Heimlich Institute's web site, Peter Heimlich) says, "deleted its main pages recommending the Heimlich maneuver as an effective treatment for drowning rescue, to stop asthma attacks and to treat cystic fibrosis."

..."(My father's) claims were based on nothing but a handful of skimpy cases in which near-dead drowning victims were 'miraculously revived' by the maneuver," he says. "Despite such thin evidence, for decades The New York Times, CBS News, Inside Edition and scores of other media outlets gave him a platform to urge the public to perform the Heimlich on people who were drowning."
Why was the information finally scrubbed from the website? As reported by the University of South Florida's campus newspaper, I made it clear that I planned to go after the organization's nonprofit status:

(Peter Heimlich said the removal of the information) happened shortly after he sent an email to (Heimlich Institute executive director Patrick) Ward and the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

Inquiring minds might wonder why, for decades, a purported medical organization put lives at risk and apparently only stopped doing so when its tax status was threatened. In any event, the Heimlich Institute's better days appear to be in the past. According to its 2011 federal tax filing, the Institute had total assets of $1000.

Along the way, we ended up uncovering some other jaw-dropping scams and scammers.


For example there was my father's 30-year protege, the late Dr. Edward A. Patrick, who, per his singular full-page obituary in the British Medical Journal, claimed to be the uncredited co-developer of the Heimlich maneuver -- which, according to his ex-wife, he called "the Patrick maneuver."

An outlandish character who sported an unkempt Elvis-style wig, for decades Patrick worked in scores of hospitals on seven state medical licenses he obtained using bogus credentials supplied by my father.

In a strange twist of fate, Patrick died just days after he lost a high-profile lawsuit against a Cleveland newspaper that published a cover story expose about him, Playing Doctor.

 

Then there's the Save-A-Life Foundation scandal. My father was "medical adviser" to SALF,  a high-profile, politically-connected Chicago nonprofit that since November 2006 has been the subject of
dozens of media exposes such as this ABC7 Chicago I-Team report that revealed a variety of malfeasance by SALF and its founder/president, Carol J. Spizzirri. The thumbnail shows her with Mike "Heckuva Job Brownie" Brown at a 2003 ceremony in Washington at which SALF became a FEMA member organization:




As I reported,
FEMA dumped Spizzirri's organization shortly before it folded in September 2009. According to the June 26, 2013 Duluth Telegraph Herald, SALF is under investigation by the Illinois Attorney General for the "possible misappropriation" of $9 million in federal and state tax dollars. And Spizzirri reportedly now lives in a mobile home park in San Marcos, California.

Another surprise came in 2005. After we uncovered that in 1985 my father had defrauded US first aid organizations in order to convince them to promote the Heimlich maneuver over other choking rescue methods, the American Red Cross (ARC) "downgraded" the Heimlich maneuver, making it a secondary treatment response for choking. Click here for a compilation of related media reports. (Further, the ARC, the American Heart Association, and ILCOR now call the treatment an "abdominal thrust.")

According to a January 21, 2013 Cincinnati Enquirer article (picked up by USA Today), my father claims he asked "the Red Cross to remove his name from any of its literature and training procedures on choking." After the story appeared, I asked the ARC about that. They were unaware of any such request from my father.

In 2010, I started doing original reporting via my blog, The Sidebar, which serves as an outlet for newsworthy information I turn up and as a platform for me to develop stories to pass along to mainstream journalists. For example, a story I first blogged -- about Saint Louis University partnering with the Chinese doctor who oversaw the Heimlich Institute's notorious "malariotherapy" experiments on AIDS patients -- subsequently bounced into the Associated Press and the Riverfront Times.

There are still important unreported and under-reported stories about my father's unusual career that we hope to bring to public attention, including an alleged $9 million payment to the Heimlich Institute by gold mining companies to fund the Heimlich Institute's "malariotherapy" experiments in Africa.

There's also this biggie:

Who really invented the Heimlich maneuver?

As I reported, my father's autobiography is scheduled to be published in February 2014. I hope that event will result in more information coming to light.

Finally, we hope our unexpected odyssey encourages other rebels, whistleblowers, citizen journalists, and those who confronted with misconduct and abuse by family members.

Questions? Just ask.



Inquiries are always welcome as is information re: the subjects listed below (in no particular order) and related matters.
Click here for our contact information. Anonymous e-mails may be sent via Anonymouse.

Henry J. Heimlich MD; Jane Heimlich; Elisabeth Heimlich; the Heimlichs and prescription drug abuse; Phil Heimlich; Jon Goodwin; Drs. Gerson Carr, Ryan Krebs, Milton Uhley; Edward A. Patrick MD PhD & family; Heimlich Institute at Xavier University & Deaconess Associations; E. Anthony Woods, Patrick Ward, Barbara Lohr; Carolyn Pence Siemers; Michele Ashby, the Denver Gold Group, and the "malariotherapy" experiments in Africa; John L. Fahey MD, Xiaoping Chen, and the "malariotherapy" experiments in China; Victoria Wulsin MD, PhD; Rotary International; Ronald Sacher MD; Charles Pierce MD; Victor Esch MD; Ron Watson, Terry Watkins, Denise Schmidt RN, Billy Lindner, Natasha Stuckey, Tyronne Stuckey, Todd Schebor, Jack Baker, etc; Jeff Ellis & Associates, Larry Newell; National Aquatic Safety Company (NASCO), John Hunsucker PhD; Jewish Hospital; Heimlich Valve & other inventions associated with my father; ventriloquist Paul Winchell, Joanne Carson, other California associates; Kathy Mansoor: Dan Gavriliu and the Reversed Gastric Tube Operation (RGT); James M. Fattu MD, Harry Gibbons MD, Glen Griffin MD, Rustum Roy PhD, other associates; "the Heimlich" for asthma, Hilary Hagan, Stephanie Hagan; Isaac Piha, Irene Bogachus; Save-A-Life Foundation (SALF), Carol J. Spizzirri, Rita Mullins, Ciprina Spizzirri, Douglas R. Browne, John Donleavy; Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), Neal Barnard MD, John J. Pippin MD; the Heimlich Group (NY); 1986 University of FL drowning study; 1982 Richard Day study (Yale); Jason Zengerle, Claire Farel MD; Robert Kraft, Joe Dehner, Stan Chesley, Jon Goodwin, Chris Finney, the late Bishop Herbert Thompson Jr., and other Cincinnati players; sexual misconduct, etc.






"The Heimlich Manoeuvre" (audio & transcript)
30 min. audio documentary by Aviva Ziegler
 Australian Broadcasting Corporation, July 27, 2009






Click here for Dr. Joe's interview with Peter



From the
June 1, 2011 Writer's Almanac, Garrison Keillor's popular poetry reading feature on public radio:




From Report on the Advanced Study Weekend with Dr. Heimlich, The McDougall Newsletter, February 2005

Many people attending the weekend considered the experience to be almost mystical - an experience never to be forgotten - the experience of being in the presence of and listening to the inspiring words of Dr. Henry Heimlich - the man who has saved more lives than anyone else in human history.

...To preserve the memory of this event, all interested participants had an opportunity to have their pictures taken with Dr. Hemlich (sic), performing the maneuver on them.

 
 


Copyright @ 2008 Peter M. Heimlich, all rights reserved.