When the Missouri State Games were just beginning to roll, I ran a few errands
for Walt, the bicycling commissioner. Things were quiet at the park after the
racers set off, so I spread out a newspaper and began making things with the
white clay that I dig east of Columbia.
On that hot July day, I was working on a small clay figure, one of a series of
people doing artificial respiration. This series started in the 1970s as a way
to enliven my first-aid and lifesaving lessons about asphyxiation, especially
A mother of one of the bike racers came to the table where I was working.
“What are you making?” she asked. I began to talk about the many ways people
had tried to revive victims of asphyxiation. Excitedly, she interrupted, “Oh,
you must make the one that saved my husband’s father’s life 70 years ago.”
She told of the boy falling into a canal, and rescuers were unable to revive
him. A man threw his body over his shoulder and ran to his home. That bouncing
ride started his breathing!”
Actually, the man’s shoulder in the boy’s middle was giving a sort of crude
Heimlich maneuver, all the way. That happened in Ireland and the “drowned
boy” was in his 90s when she told this story.
Historically, well-meaning bystanders have tried rolling a not-breathing
person over a barrel, tossing him belly-down on a trotting horse, thrashing
the victim with a handful of briars, hanging him by his feet and other
techniques of doubtful value. None of those are recommended today!
Fascinated by these historical revival techniques, I began to represent them
in clay. There are now about forty of these little figures which,
incidentally, spent six months on display at a Wisconsin Historical Medical
Museum. Color photos of five of these “little people” were published with an
article in the American Medical News.
Among the correspondence that article generated was a letter from Henry
Heimlich. He sent background material on the development of the Heimlich
maneuver, charts to be posted in public eating places, school lunchrooms,
swimming pools, etc.
He also sent me information and drawings of other Heimlich maneuvers. One is
done with two fingers on an infant. There was special information for using
the technique on near-drowned victims, people who are too heavy to lift, and
self-help when no rescuer is around.
I replied, suggesting that we give names to the maneuvers: Heimlich I,
Heimlich II, Heimlich II, etc. He said he’d give it some thought.
Now here is this famous, retired surgeon, and I’m writing to him as if he were
my uncle. But he’s calling me Sue, and we’re both interested in the welfare of
people who have stopped breathing -- from whatever the cause.
“My daughter is enrolling in the University of Missouri,” Heimlich said,
“and I shall contact you when we are in your area.” He came to see the
little figures and to talk artificial respiration for almost two hours -- on
Elizabeth Heimlich’s graduation day.
I greeted him at his car and, as we started to the house, he stopped in the
drizzling rain. He looked all around and said, “What a wonderful place to
live. I didn’t know there was place like this left in the whole country.”
Introducing him to Chub, I said, “Mr. Heimlich.” He grinned widely and said
to us both, “Just call me Hank.” We didn’t stop talking long enough to have
the chilled grape juice I’d prepared -- or to even have a chair!
We shared lots of ideas on artificial respiration, and I learned more about
the serious threat of Lyme disease, another of his concerns. Need I say that
Chub never got a word in edgewise! You’ll hear more about this.