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Some of the victims - casualties of the Heimlich maneuver for drowning rescue

by Peter M. Heimlich

Dayton Daily News, September 1, 2006:

Dr. James Orlowski has collected about 30 cases of Heimlich maneuvers leading to bad results in drowning rescues, usually because of vomiting. Orlowski, a prolific researcher, directs pediatric intensive care, pediatrics and medical ethics at University Community Hospital in Tampa and teaches at the University of South Florida. He wrote 19 years ago in The Journal of the American Medical Association about what should have been the "routine resuscitation" of a 10-year-old boy who'd been submerged for less than two minutes. But given the Heimlich maneuver, the boy vomited extensively, damaging his lungs and impeding a lifeguard's and doctor's efforts to give him CPR. The boy died after seven years in a coma.

Washington Post, June 3, 2011:

The Heimlich maneuver became famous as a way for people to dislodge a foreign object from a choking person’s airway. But it’s been utterly discredited as a way of rescuing a person who is drowning, and can actually do serious harm to someone who has just been pulled from the water, numerous experts say.

...The list of experts who reject the Heimlich maneuver (for drowning rescue) is lengthy: The American Red Cross; the United States Lifesaving Association; the American Heart Association; the Institute of Medicine; the International Life Saving Federation and many experienced doctors and academics have strongly inveighed against doing “abdominal thrusts” for drowning victims.

...In Tampa, which has one of the highest drowning rates in the country, Dr. James Orlowski said he has documented nearly 40 cases where rescuers performing the Heimlich maneuver have caused complications for the victim. Orlowski is chief of pediatrics and pediatric intensive care at University Community Hospital in Tampa.

Marquis Fuller (center)                                         Angela Henley                                             Danny Blanco        

Marquis Fuller (8 years old), St. Augustine, FL, 2004
Derrick Kelly (17 years old), Detroit, 2003
Danny Blanco (2-1/2 years old), Orland Park, IL, 2001
Unnamed girl (3 years old), Orlando, FL(?), 1997
Unnamed boy  (10 years old), Cleveland, OH, approx. 1979


Angela Henley (18 years old), Kirksvile, MO:
To Heimlich of Not?, Part II, KTVO (ABC affiliate), November 16, 2005

5/23/08, Goshen, IN: 10 year-old near-drowning victim in critical condition after lifeguard performs Heimlich maneuver

8/24/09: Questions Continue To Rise About Houston-Based Lifeguard Program by Mike Giglio, Houston Press

Andy Maurek, operations manager at the Water World in Denver, Colo., where a 48-year-old man drowned on July 21, says his park follows NASCO protocols directly -- and that it did so in this case. "We did the Heimlich while we were in the water. When we pulled him out, we began our CPR procedure."


Copyright @ 2008 Peter M. Heimlich, all rights reserved. Click here to report broken links or to contact the author.