My Seventy Years of Lifesaving Innovation
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A self-promoting memoir from the inventor of the abdominal thrust technique that bears his name.

A retired thoracic surgeon, Heimlich launches into his prideful narrative by relating how he faced and overcame anti-Semitism early in his career; how, as a 21-year-old camp counselor, he saved the life of a man trapped in a train wreck; and how, as a young medical officer in the U.S. Navy, he saved the sight of many Chinese soldiers by medicating their eyes with a concoction he invented. Some years after the war, Heimlich, working with dogs, developed a reverse gastric tube procedure that replaced or bypassed the esophagus, thus enabling patients with damaged ones to swallow (the author credits Romanian doctor Dan Gavriliu, who independently developed a similar procedure). Later, he designed a drainage mechanism with a flutter valve that prevented fluids or air from returning to the chest after surgery and an unobtrusive oxygen delivery device for patients with breathing problems. His best known achievement, however, is the Heimlich maneuver, a simple emergency technique that forces air out of the lungs of a choking person, enabling an object lodged in the airway to be expelled. This technique, writes the author, is also effective for treating asthma and victims of drowning. His ideas have not been universally accepted, and he is still battling with the Red Cross over its recommendation to first try back slaps on choking victims. Heimlich’s claim that malariotherapy (injections of malaria-infected blood) can be an effective treatment of HIV/AIDS patients has also met with opposition. Heimlich’s plainly written memoir, replete with pictures of himself and anecdotes featuring him with grateful patients, is not just a personal story but a sharp criticism of a medical system that he sees as too slow to accept or at least research controversial new ideas.

A rather grandiose self-assessment that may appeal to someone whose life has been saved by the Heimlich maneuver—not likely to reach a wider readership.

Pub Date: Feb. 11th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-61614-849-2
Page count: 230pp
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2013


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