When Kevin Stephan was 12 years old, he was accidentally struck in the chest while playing baseball. A batter’s backswing hit him, stopping his heart and triggering cardiac arrest. From the stands rushed Penny Brown, who used CPR to revive him and save his life. That was in 1999. Seven years later, Stephan used a different technique to save a woman’s life: the Heimlich maneuver.
Â In a restaurant that Stephan works in, a female diner began choking. Customers tried to help, unsuccessfully. Stephan emerged from the kitchen and delivered two thrusts of his fist below the woman’s ribcage, dislodging the food. This all happened back in January 2006. The incident got a lot of media attention locally because of who the person was: Penny Brown, the same woman who had saved him on the baseball diamond.
Â The Heimlich Institute awarded Stephan for his act, and during the ceremony Dr. Henry Heimlich, inventor of the move that bears his name, couldn’t help but spread his message about this lifesaving technique to the audience. “Feel for the bottom of your rib cage,” he said. “Do it right now.”
Â Do you know the Heimlich maneuver? Most of us know of the lifesaving technique, but not how to perform it. It was introduced to the public in the mid-1970s as a way to clear a person’s obstructed airway, in particular an individual whose lungs are full of water, who is near drowning.
Â Four days before Halloween in 1975, a major U.S. medical journal published reports that drowning victims were saved by the Heimlich. In 1982, researchers proved that the Heimlich can completely clear water from the lungs — in only 40 seconds. Four years later, the American Heart Association endorsed the Heimlich, including it in its manual on how to rescue drowning people.
Â We know it more for its ability to save people who are choking on food. Since 1974, the Heimlich has been credited with saving 50,000 lives — including the likes of Jack Lemmon, Goldie Hawn, Cher, Walter Matthau, and Ronald Reagan. Dr. Heimlich, now in his 80s, says it is being used for asthmatics now as well. In any event, so we all know, here is how one performs the Heimlich:
Â 1) Wrap arms around the choking person’s waist. 2) Make a fist and place your thumb against the person’s upper abdomen, below the ribs and above the naval. 3) Put your other hand on your fist and give a fast upward thrust. Do not squeeze the ribs. Use only your hands, not your arms. 4) Repeat this until the person is no longer choking.
Â If you are choking, follow this same procedure and perform it on yourself. If your hands aren’t doing the trick, you can try the edge of a table or chair, or a railing. Press your upper abdomen, below the ribs, against the edge and thrust. See a doctor afterward. To quickly dispel a myth, never slap a person’s back when they are choking, as this could make the situation even worse.