This Day In History: June 1

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On June 1, 1974, the stop-choking technique invented by Cincinnati surgeon Henry J. Heimlich is published in the medical journal Emergency Medicine. The Heimlich maneuver, which involves thrusting inward and upward on the abdomen of choking victims, becomes the go-to method for saving lives.

Heimlich shared his informal findings in an essay he wrote for the June 1974 issue of the journal called “Pop Goes the Café Coronary.” The term “Café Coronary syndrome” refers to the act of a person choking while eating at a restaurant, and observers thinking the choker is suffering from a heart attack. The established professional medical treatment would be a tracheostomy, which involves the insertion of a large-caliber hypodermic needle into the trachea to provide a temporary airway, something only a doctor can do.

“What’s really needed then is a first-aid procedure that doesn’t require specialized instruments or equipment and can be performed by any informed layman—or even considered by a physician before resorting to tracheostomy with its attendant hazards,” Heimlich wrote in his article. “So, experimentally at least, I have developed such a procedure. It’s been tested only on dogs, but I believe the logic of the concept and the favorable findings warrant public dissemination.”

Experiments were performed on four Beagles, with each getting the same treatment more than 20 times. The dogs responded well, Heimlich wrote, giving him confidence that humans whose windpipes are blocked by a foreign object would have the same results.

The technique went on to save tens of thousands of lives in the next half-century. June 1 is now recognized annually as National Heimlich Maneuver Day.