Monday, May 23 was a busy night at the dining room at Deupree House, the premier Cincinnati retirement home owned by Episcopal Retirement Services. Every table was filled with diners enjoying their dinners, and there was a waiting list of residents and their guests.
Suddenly, the room fell quiet. One of the guests, 87-year-old Patty Ris, began choking on a piece of hamburger. The guest next to her sprang into action, turning her around and pressing on her abdomen below her rib cage three times to dislodge the piece of meat.
That guest happened to be none other than the creator of the Heimlich Maneuver himself — 96-year-old Henry Heimlich.
“I sort of felt wonderful about it, having saved that girl,” said Heimlich, who invented the maneuver in 1974 and has lived at Deupree House for about six years.
Ris, who has recovered from the incident, said she had been choking so hard that she was gasping for air.
“I was gone,” she said. “I couldn’t breathe at all, for a long time.”
She told Heimlich later, “God put me in that seat right next to you, Dr. Heimlich, so you could save my life.”
Perry Gaines, the Deupree House kitchen manager, said he felt like he was on stage during the incident. Everyone had stopped eating and talking to watch as Dr. Heimlich performed his famous maneuver, he said.
“It was almost like history was being made,” Gaines said. “I was trained to do it and I have before, but this was the first time the person who originated it was actually doing it before my eyes.
“She was OK right away,” Gaines said of Ris. “She knew that she was in great hands.”
Dr. Heimlich’s son, former Cincinnati city councilman and Hamilton County commissioner Phil Heimlich, credited his father’s regular exercise at Deupree House — which includes swimming every other day — for giving him the ability to react quickly and save Ris’s life.
“The fact that he’s at such a great institution as Deupree I think has enabled him to stay in shape and keep active,” he said. “I think that allowed him to perform this.”
The historic Heimlich maneuver happened just over a week before National Heimlich Maneuver Day, June 1. Now, Heimlich and Ris have a new reason to celebrate.
Dr. Heimlich’s lifesaving use of his technique has made international headlines. Check out these links to some of the coverage: