Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, August 22, 2007

Heimlich's son cites Dallas case in dispute:
He says dad is wrong in urging maneuver be used on near-drowning victims

by Jennifer Learn-Andes jandes@timesleader.com

Dr. Henry Heimlich twice cited a 1981 Dallas, Pa., near-drowning case as evidence that his Heimlich maneuver saves the lives of near-drowning victims if it's used before CPR.

But the Heimlich maneuver was never used in the Dallas case - something Heimlich's son, Peter, is stressing as he tries to raise national awareness that his father was wrong.

"Once I found out that my father was promoting his theory using fake cases, what was I supposed to do? I wasn't going to turn a blind eye and hope no one else got hurt or killed. So I decided to make as much noise as I could," said Peter, who lives in Atlanta, Ga.

Peter Heimlich learned about the Dallas case through research he is doing on a book about his father, who became famous for the maneuver to dislodge obstructions from choking victims through abdominal thrusts.

Heimlich said he has uncovered questionable details about other near-drowning cases that were cited by his father, who is in his late 80s. The elder Heimlich could not be reached for comment for this story through his public relations representative. Peter Heimlich believes his father knew the details were not factual.

Accurate details about the drowning came from an Aug. 12, 1981, article in the Dallas Post. Dallas resident Robert Besecker saved his 2-year-old nephew by applying CPR, the article said.

Donald Bunney, the boy's father, praised Besecker and the use of CPR in the article, going as far as to say that he would suggest the use of CPR to his co-workers.

On Tuesday, Besecker verified that he used CPR only. He said he would not have considered doing the Heimlich on his 22-month-old nephew.

"I don't know who or how someone thought I did the Heimlich. I don't know where Mr. Heimlich or anyone else got that idea. It never happened," Besecker said.

Experts agree on CPR

Henry Heimlich referred to the Dallas case in two publications, one co-authored in the late 1980s that appeared in Postgraduate Medicine and the other, a 1991 article he wrote for The Physicians and Sportsmedicine.

Descriptions about the Dallas case were similar in both Heimlich articles. They said the "Dallas Ambulance Squad" had been talking about the use of the Heimlich maneuver for near-drowning victims and used it the next day on a 2-year-old boy who had been submerged in a swimming pool for 10 minutes.

An estimated 2 cups of water "came out of his airways" after the Heimlich maneuver was performed, Heimlich's articles contended. CPR was then performed for 10 to 15 minutes, and the boy recovered completely, the articles say.

Heimlich cited a letter that allegedly came from the Dallas Ambulance Squad as the source of his information.

Using the Dallas case and others, Heimlich argued that his maneuver would rid victims' airways of water.

Medical experts across the country have come out in opposition to the use of the Heimlich maneuver on near-drowning victims, Peter Heimlich said.

"They all say the first thing you want to do is ventilate - get air into the body through mouth-to-mouth and CPR," Peter Heimlich said. "Experts say drownings are life-and-death emergencies in which every second counts, so don't waste any time on a useless procedure that creates more risk for the victim."

Peter Heimlich said this "isn't a matter of differing scientific opinions" because his father "stands alone."

"His claims have been universally rejected by blue ribbon committees of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, lifeguard organizations and numerous drowning experts," he said.

The American Red Cross Wyoming Valley Chapter advises the use of CPR - not the Heimlich - on near-drowning victims, said Mark Innocenzi, director of health and safety.

"The only way to get water out of the lungs is to force air into them," Innocenzi said.

Still, Peter Heimlich said he encounters organizations that continue to promote his father's use of the Heimlich on near-drowning victims, though the number is dwindling.

The technique is also promoted heavily on a Web site for the Heimlich Institute. Representatives of Deaconess Associations Inc., which operates the institute, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Peter Heimlich, who was featured on an ABC "20/20" profile, said he started researching the career of his father after concerns about his father's handling of family medical matters.

Jennifer Learn-Andes, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 831-7333 and at jandes@timesleader.com



Peter M. Heimlich
August 22, 2007 at 11:16 AM

Comment on Article
My thanks to Ms. Learn-Andes and the Times Leader for an excellent report. There's another important medical fact readers should know. Every legitimate medical organization and drowning expert agree that performing abdominal thrusts (the Heimlich maneuver) on drowning victims is not only a waste of time, it may cause the victim to vomit. The vomit may then be aspirated into the victim's lungs, possibly resulting in brain damage or death. Over the past 30 years in which my father has promoted his theory, dozens of such poor outcome cases have been documented. Many of the victims are children. That's the main reason I've spoken out - I didn't want anyone else to be hurt or killed by would-be rescuers who were misled by my father's false claims. The big question is, why does Deaconess Associations of Cincinnati, a $250 million/year hospital and medical services corporation, continue to promote a universally discredited medical treatment that might result in dead or brain-damaged kids? See my website for more articles and information, including links to the June 8, 2007 ABC 20/20 report by investigative reporter Brian Ross: http://medfraud.info