The highest drowning rate is among schoolboys, upper grades, swimming in unguarded ponds, rivers and lakes on late Sunday afternoons. That’s bad news, but there’s good news about artificial respiration. The good news is that those boys will be able to save each other this year because they already know how to do the Heimlich maneuver. Drowning is "choking on water!" When Henry Heimlich, a thoracic surgeon in Cincinnati, Ohio, told the world about restoring breathing to someone choking on a foreign object, he designated it "for drowning and for choking." That was 30 years ago!
We all learned what someone called a "maneuver." Now it’s in the dictionaries - in the "H" listings - and mine says, "The Heimlich Maneuver ... an emergency technique used for dislodging an object stuck in the windpipe. Air is forced up the windpipe by applying sudden, sharp pressure to the abdomen just above the rib cage."
The various agencies teaching lifesaving and cardiopulmonary-resuscitation had endorsed mouth-to-mouth breathing, and they apparently didn’t hear Heimlich shouting, "You cannot force air into water-filled lungs!"
Scientific studies take time and money, but many universities conducted studies on animals and humans to determine the effectiveness of blowing air into lungs. Not one study showed enough air getting into the lungs.
Then came "Annie," an imported full-length mannequin with face and "lungs" and full body in track suit and tennis shoes.
I was teaching at an American Red Cross aquatic school when the first "Resusi-Annie" was unpacked. We were truly excited about this "body," which was so life-like that her chest rose and lowered as we blew air into her mouth. We took turns, wiping her mouth before each change of "rescuers."
When it was my turn, I thought: "This is backwards!" I realized that I should have had some way to get the water out before I tried to force air in.
Only about half of those who had stopped breathing were being revived. With the Heimlich maneuver used instead of blowing into mouths, a five-year study by lifeguards showed that 97 percent of unconscious, not-breathing victims recover fully!
Here’s what happens when someone drowns: The person is vertical in the water, head stretched back to try to gulp some air. When he loses consciousness he is suddenly limp all over and water rushes into the airways and lungs.
On shore or in a boat, pressure above the navel and below the rib cage causes the breathing muscle - the diaphragm - to press against the two lungs, sending the water up and out!
The Heimlich maneuver is usually done with the victim flat on his back and with the rescuer astride his or her thighs.
Infants and small children can be on the rescuer’s lap or on a bench or table; two fingers of each hand are used to apply rapid, gentle pressures, ending each pressure with an upward motion above the navel and below the rib cage.
Parents should accompany those boys if they are to swim where no lifeguard is on duty!