Tuesday, July 19, 2016

I'm the plaintiff in a New Jersey public records lawsuit challenging the state's residency requirement

In response to a recent request for records I filed under New Jersey's Open Public Records Act (OPRA), a government agency (located in Mullica Hill) denied my request because I don't live in the Garden State.

As much as I love The Boss, Southside Johnny, and other great Jersey bands, I don't want to move to Asbury Park in order to access public information, so I took it to court.


Here's what my attorney, CJ Griffin at Pashman Stein Walder Hayden in Hackensack and a member of the board of trustees at ACLU-NJ, e-mailed me when I asked her to comment:
For more than a decade, agencies have been responding to OPRA requests without ever inquiring whether the requestor was a State resident. Recently, that changed. While two courts have held that you do not need to be a resident to file an OPRA request and the issue is pending before the Appellate Division, the EIRC decided to cite the lone judge who has ruled that New Jersey citizenship is required to file an OPRA request. In doing so, they have essentially shut down access by out-of-state reporters and investigators. The Legislature surely could not have intended that only in-state media has a right to access records under OPRA, given that NJ is situated between two major media markets.

A decision that requires one to be a New Jersey resident in order to file OPRA requests is simply not enforceable and it undermines provisions of OPRA that permit anonymous requests.

While there is a single reference to records being available to ‘citizens of this state’ within OPRA’s opening declaration, repeatedly throughout the statute the Legislature made it clear that ‘any person’ may request records; ‘any person’ may inspect records; ‘any person’ may file a lawsuit for the unlawful denial of access to records. In fact, under OPRA’s predecessor law, those same provisions did say ‘any citizen,’ but in enacting OPRA the Legislature went out of its way to change every single operational provision to make it clear that ‘any person’ may utilize the statute.

H/T to John Paff for steering me to CJ.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

In Wall Street Journal article about anti-choking devices, my father says "any action that delays" his namesake maneuver "can be deadly" -- plus video of my 96-year-old pa conducting the Cornell band

My brother Phil Heimlich with our father (source)

Via Can New Devices Match Heimlich to Stop Choking? LifeVac and Dechoker pose alternative to abdominal thrusts -- LifeVac and Dechoker pose alternative to abdominal thrusts by Laura Johannes, Wall Street Journal,
Two new easy-to-use devices work like plungers to suck out obstructions in the airway, providing another option if standard treatment—such as abdominal thrusts developed in 1974 by Henry Heimlich—fail to clear the airway, say the companies who sell them.

...Both the Dechoker, $89.95, and the LifeVac, $69.95, have a plastic mask that provides a seal over the mouth and nose while suction is provided. The Dechoker looks like a large syringe, while the LifeVac’s plunger is shaped like a small accordion.[Page down for graphics.]

...Skeptics include Dr. Heimlich, now 96. Such a device may not be handy in the “unexpected instance that a person chokes,” Dr. Heimlich, a retired thoracic surgeon from Cincinnati, says in a statement released by his son, Phil Heimlich. “Any action that delays use of the Heimlich maneuver or complicates the rescue can be deadly.”
Any action that delays "the Heimlich"?

Does that include backblows, chest thrusts and finger sweeps?

In any event, in recent months I've enjoyed some friendly correspondence with LifeVac inventor Arthur Lih and Christopher Kellogg, Dechoker's Chief Operating Officer, so I e-mailed them invitations to respond to my father's statement.

Mr. Lih declined. I haven't received a reply from Mr. Kellogg.

By the way, I'm pleased to learn that my father has apparently recovered from an unspecified "medical problem" which, according to my brother, recently prevented him from answering questions from a Cincinnati reporter.

Finally, apropos of nothing except that I've been wanting to blog it, here's a video of my father, accompanied by my sister Janet Heimlich and a walker, conducting the Cornell Big Red Alumni band on June 11, 2016

The performance happened about two weeks after -- according to CNN reporter David Shortell -- my father "sprang into action" in the dining room of a Cincinnati assisted living community to perform his namesake maneuver on an 87-year-old woman sitting next to him.

According to Guardian reporter Joanna Walters' story about the incident, the woman, Patty Gill Ris, claimed she had been choking on a piece of hamburger, but my father claimed it was "a piece of food with some bone in it."


Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Long Crawl-back, Part I: After being punk'd by my 96-year-old father, Cincinnati ABC-TV affiliate publishes decent update -- "health problems" prevent Dr. Maneuver from answering questions

Via veteran reporter Ben Kaufman's media column in the June 8, 2016 Cincinnati CityBeat, the Queen City's longtime newsweekly:
A recent Cincinnati Enquirer story went global, aided and abetted by the Associated Press. It was perfect click bait. The story said that at 96, Cincinnatian Henry Heimlich used his Maneuver for the first time to save a life (of a purported choking victim, 87-year-old Patty Ris, at the Deupree House senior residence*).
...After Peter Heimlich alerted The Enquirer and others to a similar claim (his father had made) years ago, the paper backed away from the novelty. It assigned a second reporter to redo the story, adding and explaining doubts about the “first” in the longest crawl-back I can remember.

Peter Heimlich told me that in addition to The Enquirer and AP, “these are some of the news outlets I filed corrections requests with last week: CNN, NBC News, The New York Daily News, and WCPO-TV. At this writing, none have corrected the errors.”
This is the first part of a series about my corrections requests.

* Reporters at McKnight's and Slate have questioned the veracity of the Deupree House story. So have I.


Since Spring 2003, my father has been thoroughly exposed as a medical charlatan, a serial liar, and a con man in scores of media reports, two of the first being these Sunday front-pagers in the Cincinnati Enquirer (based on research by my wife Karen and me).


Here's my point.

Could there be a veteran journalist in the 'Nati who'd take anything my father said at face value and report it?

Reporter Scott Wegener, WCPO-TV News (source)

According to his bio on the website of WCPO-TV (Cincinnati's ABC affiliate), reporter Scott Wegener has been working in the Queen City since 1986 and has won some journalism awards.

On May 27, WCPO aired Wegener's story, Heimlich maneuver inventor uses it for the first time... at age 96, based on this lie told by my father:

That day and again on June 1, I sent e-mails to Wegener about the error.

I received his confirmations of receipt but no reply.

Reporter Joe Rosemeyer, WCPO-TV (source)

On June 27 I took it to WCPO.com News Editor Mike Canan and the next day, Heimlich's first time using maneuver? Maybe not by Joe Rosemeyer, was published on the station's website.

It's tough to prove someone intentionally lied and Rosemeyer's story included some verbal acrobatics perhaps intended to step around that dead elephant in the room:
Maybe Henry Heimlich simply misremembered. Or maybe news reports from the early 2000s simply weren't true.

Either way, there's an irresolvable conflict: When did Dr. Heimlich first perform his namesake maneuver?

A month ago, just a few days before National Heimlich Maneuver Day, the Cincinnati doctor said he'd finally used it for the first time. He's 96 years old, and he invented the move to help choking victims more than 40 years ago.

Pretty incredible that he hadn't used it before then, right?

Except Heimlich apparently told the BBC in 2003 he'd performed it three years earlier, in 2000.

...Several other media outlets also covered that earlier story.

...The doctor's son, Phil Heimlich, said he, his sister and father have no recollection of the incident 16 years ago.
"It would have been a major news story, so we would have remembered," he said.
Presumably the "irresolvable conflict" could be resolved by asking my father, but the story didn't include any quotes from Dr. Maneuver or any indication that he'd been contacted, so I asked Rosemeyer about that.

He replied, "Phil said Henry had some health problems since last month, so he was calling me back instead."

Is this the first time Dr. Heimlich has ever used the maneuver to save a life?

“Yes, this is,” he said Friday. “I originally did my research studies that led to my developing it, which was in 1974, and I never considered that I would be doing it myself.”

The record is murky in that regard. A BBC article in 2003 quoted the doctor, then 83, describing a similar encounter where he tried the maneuver on a fellow diner, a man, although the story lacked details such as a precise date, location and name. A New Yorker article in 2006 made reference to a similar incident, also without details. But a son, Phil Heimlich, said his father had never mentioned any previous incidents to him. The doctor himself did not return a follow-up call.
Finally, if my father's ill, I wish him a speedy recovery.

And when he's better, I'd encourage reporters to interview him to perhaps resolve the "irresolvable conflict."

And if any reporters need someone on the record calling him a liar, I'm available.

This item has been slightly updated.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

VA cops successfully responded to choking victim using back blows/Heimlich combo -- and provided the opportunity to revisit my father's clandestine bankrolling of discredited Yale choking study

Via Police officers come to the rescue of choking man at Subway restaurant
Fairfax police officers came to the rescue of a choking man at a Subway restaurant on Thursday.

...Police said in a statement, "Officer Mulhern utilized his training and administered back blows and Heimlich maneuver. Due to the officers' quick actions, the man's airway was cleared and all were able to finish enjoying their meals."
Via Heimlich maneuver's creator fights Red Cross by Cliff Radel, Cincinnati Enquirer, January 21, 2013:
The American Red Cross' first-aid procedure recommends five back slaps and then five abdominal thrusts for someone who's choking.

...Those recommendations "horrify" (Dr. Henry) Heimlich..."Many scientific studies" have proven "if a person is choking and the food is in the airway, if you hit them on the back, it causes the food to go deeper and tighter into the airway."
Via Red Cross reverses policy on choking aid by Abram Katz, October 23, 2006 (based on my research and tip):
(The) only known study comparing the Heimlich maneuver and back blows was performed by three Yale scientists: Richard L. Day, Edmund S. Crelin and Arthur B. DuBois.
Richard L. Day MD (source)
The paper, published in 1982 in the journal Pediatrics, concluded that the Heimlich is superior. Back blows are not merely ineffective, they can force blockages down the throat and toward the larynx - exactly the wrong direction, the researchers concluded.
"Choking: The Heimlich Abdominal Thrust vs Back Blows: An Approach to Measurement of Inertial and Aerodynamic Forces," by Day, Crelin and DuBois, could well have been the final word.

Except that in acknowledgements at the end of the paper, the authors credit support from the "Dysphagia Foundation Inc. of Cincinnati Inc."
And records from the Ohio Secretary of State's office show that the Dysphagia Foundation was renamed "The Heimlich Institute" Aug. 30, 1982.
In other words, the Yale experts studying the Heimlich maneuver were apparently assisted by Dr. Henry J. Heimlich, developer and tireless promoter of the Heimlich maneuver. He referred to back blows as "death blows."
The connection between Heimlich and the Yale scientists appears to pose at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.

...(Dr. Heimlich) did not return phone calls.
Via a June 7, 1982 letter from my father to Dr. Day (embedded below):

I've already reported that my father's financial arrangement with Day was part of a bizarre campaign to eliminate backblows from choking rescue protocols.

"To win," as reporter Tom Francis put it, "the choking rescue crown."

And beginning in 1986 and for the next two decades, my father wore that crown. During those years, U.S. first aid guidelines recommended only his namesake treatment.

But if current first aid guidelines and the Fairfax cops are any indication, despite the efforts of my crooked father and his cronies, science appears to have righted itself.  

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

More re: the "viral Heimlich" story: Mystery meat at the Deupree House -- and is my father dating the "ostensible choking victim"?

I've got two problems with the May 27, 2016 Guardian article by Joanna Walters, Dr Henry Heimlich uses Heimlich manoeuvre for first time at 96.

The second problem is a bone I have to pick about inattentive reporting.

More about that later.

The first problem's the headline and the lead. 
The surgeon who gave his name to the simple but dramatic procedure used to rescue people from choking saved someone’s life with the Heimlich Manoeuvre for the first time this week aged 96. [sic]
...(On Monday, May 23) the retired chest surgeon encountered a female resident at his retirement home in Cincinnati [the Deupree House] who was choking at the dinner table.
Per the videos at the end of this item, my father, my brother Phil, and 87-year-old Patty Ris (the "ostensible choking victim" according to Slate) claimed this was the first time my father saved the life of a choking victim using his namesake maneuver.

Partly as a result of my efforts, that claim was swiftly debunked.

From 2001-2006, my then 81-year-old father told reporters from the Private Clubs Newsletter, Chicago Sun-Times, BBC, and the New Yorker that he had Heimlich-ed a choking victim in June 2001 while having lunch with a friend at the restaurant of Cincinnati's Banker's Club.

If my father -- no slouch when it comes to ginning up press coverage -- had shared that information with Cincinnati reporters, obviously it would have gone viral, just as the recent story did.

But the Banker's Club tale was never reported by any news outlets in Cincinnati.

As my father undoubtedly realized, local reporters would have fact-checked it.

Mary Mihaly (source)

Then there's a December 2009/January 2010 Health Monitor article by Cleveland writer/editor Mary Mihaly entitled Heimlich's Latest Maneuvers:
Inevitably, talk turns to (Dr. Heimlich's) “latest maneuver” - his upcoming autobiography, Heimlich’s Maneuvers, to be published shortly by Bartleby Press.

...But there’s one anecdote you won’t find in Heimlich’s Maneuvers - the doctor’s own use of the Heimlich maneuver to save someone’s life. The famous doctor has never had the opportunity to administer the maneuver on a choking victim - yet. 
Just three years before Mihaly's article, the New Yorker published this by staff writer Lauren Collins:
Dr. Heimlich himself said the other day that he has performed the move only once, in Cincinnati.
Also, my wife Karen and I were on reasonably good terms with my family in June 2001, when the Banker's Club incident supposedly took place.

If my father had saved a choking victim with "the Heimlich," wouldn't he or another member of my family have told us?

But no one did.

Per the Cincinnati Enquirer, my father didn't even tell my brother Phil, who has been my father's right-hand man for decades:
"All I can say is none of us had a recollection of it," Phil Heimlich said. "If dad did it, I would’ve heard about it."
No surprise to me, my father -- an abject coward -- is now hiding from questions about his earlier claim.

Via Christine Hauser's May 27, 2016 New York Times report about the Deupree House incident:
A BBC article in 2003 quoted (Dr. Heimlich), then 83, describing a similar encounter where he tried the maneuver on a fellow diner, a man, although the story lacked details such as a precise date, location and name. A New Yorker article in 2006 made reference to a similar incident, also without details. But a son, Phil Heimlich, said his father had never mentioned any previous incidents to him. The doctor himself did not return a follow-up call.  
Back to the Guardian story, here's what I meant by inattentive reporting:

If my father's quote is accurate, either the local department of health should be notified that the Deupree House is serving substandard hamburger meat -- or my father didn't keep his story straight.

I know plenty of reporters and editors who wouldn't have let that one get by without a follow-up question, especially when the source has a history of lying to the press and publishing phony case reports (here, here, and here).

But it's not to late for the Guardian or other news outlets to ask Dr. Maneuver to clarify.

If any reporters do ask him, maybe he could also respond to this?

Slate and McKnight's have questioned whether the May 23 choking incident at the retirement may have been a publicity stunt staged as a tie-in to "National Heimlich Maneuver Day" which fell only a week later on June 1.

Via At Least Part of Last Week's Charming Viral Heimlich-Maneuver Story Was Bogus by Ben Mathis-Lilley, Slate, June 3, 2016

How else to perhaps get to the bottom of the mystery -- and the mystery meat?

On Monday evening, when a woman who happened to be sitting next to him in their upscale Cincinnati retirement community choked on a piece of hamburger, 96-year-old Heimlich sprung into action.
"I immediately knew she was choking," Heimlich told NBC News. "I just realized, I've got to go over and save her."
But was that night really the first time they'd met?

Carol J. Spizzirri, currently a defendant in a wide-ranging federal civil rights lawsuit filed by a former Save-A-Life Foundation employee, nuzzles up to my then 83-year-old father at a September 16, 2003 Save-A-Life foundation event

According to this Facebook post by Carol J. Spizzirri of San Marcos, CA, who had a close personal and professional relationship with my father via her tainted Chicago nonprofit, the Save-A-Life Foundation:


Spizzirri's post is dated just six days after the May 23 purported choking incident at Deupree House.

Either my father's a fast worker or perhaps he and Patty Ris bonded after defeating the life-threatening hamburger. Or was it the meat with the bone in it?

Incidentally, "former third-grade teacher" Patty Ris was married to a prominent and apparently well-heeled business owner, the late Howard C. Ris.

According to a January 13, 2012 remembrance, he enjoyed "life in his home at the Country Club of Florida in Boynton Beach, Fla. [just south of Palm Beach]; where he and his devoted wife of 34 years, Patricia (Gill) Ris have lived since 1983."

Those who know my father well are aware that he's always had a thing for women with money.

For example, my mother, the late Jane Murray Heimlich -- who my father cheated on throughout their 50+ year marriage -- was the daughter of dance studio mogul Arthur Murray.

My advise to Patty Ris?

My father already set you up by failing to tell you his Banker's Club tale.

If you stick around for more, you've got no one to blame but yourself.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Hey, number crunchers! If "the Heimlich" has saved 100,000 lives, why are the stats flat for US choking deaths?

Here's an interesting question for statistics experts.

How many people have been saved from choking to death by the Heimlich maneuver? 

Via At 96, Dr. Heimlich Uses His Own Maneuver on Choking Victim by Christine Hauser, New York Times, May 27, 2016:
In 1974, (Dr. Henry Heimlich) developed the method that compresses the lungs, causing a flow of air that carries the stuck object out of the airway and then the mouth. More than 100,000 people owe their lives to the technique, by some estimates.
I've come across that "100,000 lives saved" number many times. I've also seen 50,000.

To the best of my knowledge, both numbers originated with the Heimlich Institute, a Cincinnati nonprofit whose sole activity appears to be running Heimlich Heroes, a program that teaches young people how to perform the Heimlich maneuver.

Via the Heimlich Heroes website
Via the Heimlich Heroes website

Ever since my wife and I started researching my father's unusual career, I've wondered if there was a way to determine how many choking deaths have been prevented by his namesake treatment.

My math skills are challenged when I have to balance my checkbook, but the only approach that made sense to me was to look at choking death statistics.

That is, if the deaths of 100,000 or 50,000 choking victims had been prevented, presumably there would be a statistical decrease in the number of choking deaths since my father introduced the treatment.

And to adjust for population growth, it seemed to me that the only useful numbers would be choking deaths per capita.

The National Safety Council (NSC) compiles statistics on various unintentional injury-related deaths: motor vehicles, falls, drowning, fires, firearms, poisonings, etc.

According to the organization's 2016 Injury Facts, the NSC has been compiling choking death statistics from 1943 to the present.

That's three decades before my father introduced the treatment and four decades since, which seems like a reasonable and perhaps useful date range.

I first reported about the NSC's choking death statistics in an October 21, 2013 item about a problematic audio documentary about my father produced by Radiolab, a syndicated NPR program.

At the time, here's what Radiolab reporter/producer Pat Walters (who has since left the program) e-mailed me:
I checked my NSC stats, and it looks like I was wrong. I’d had an intern run the numbers for me initially, with the intention of checking them later, which I always do. Here’s what I’ve found: I only have data up to 2009 (from the 2011 report), which I believe you said you have, too. I’m waiting on the 2012 report from the com people at NSC so I can avoid paying 90 bucks for it. But anyway, according to that data and my back of the envelope calculations using population estimates from the US Census, in 1973 (pre-Heimlich manuever [sic]), choking was listed as the cause for 1.42 deaths per 100,000 people in the US. In 2009? The rate was 1.49 per 100,000.

So, if anything, the rate has gone up a bit. But just a bit. Not even significant, if you ask me. My take on this is that, essentially, almost nothing has changed.

But Mr. Walters isn't a statistics expert, so I'm hoping this item finds its way onto the screens of some capable number crunchers who might be able to shed some light on the subject.

Page down for the NSC's most recent (2016) per capita choking deaths per 100,000 population. Click here to download a copy.

I'm going to forward this to Nate Silver's crew at FiveThirtyEight.com, but if you know any other stats experts who might want to chime in, I'd welcome any thoughtful analysis for a future item.

Click here for my contact info.

This item has been revised for simplicity. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Slate reporter: Was "viral Heimlich" story a publicity stunt?


Yesterday Slate published a significant correction to reporter Ben Mathis-Lilley's May 27 story about my father rescuing a choking victim plus a new item by Mathis-Lilley questioning whether the entire tale was a publicity stunt.

My Thursday corrections request to Slate (page down) apparently triggered the updates, thereby making me two for two.

Per my Wednesday item, last week the Cincinnati Enquirer was badly punk'd by my 96-year-old father. On May 26, he told the paper his alleged recent application of his namesake maneuver on an 87-year-old woman was the first time he'd ever "Heimlich-ed" a choking victim.

In a May 27 corrections request, I informed the Enquirer that in four published reports from 2001-2006 (including the Chicago Sun-Times, BBC, and the New Yorker), my father claimed he rescued a choking victim at a Cincinnati restaurant in 2001.

That evening the Enquirer the paper published a major re-write at the same link as the original story. (Click here for a copy of the original version.)

Via Mathis-Lilley's new item, At Least Part of Last Week's Charming Viral Heimlich-Maneuver Story Was Bogus:
This Wednesday, perhaps not coincidentally given Henry Heimlich's history as a self-promoter, was National Heimlich Maneuver Day.

Both the ostensible choking victim in the recent retirement-home incident (Patty Ris) and another witness vouched that Heimlich had performed the dislodging procedure, although Ris' testimony was made public through a public relations firm rather than a direct interview with a reporter. Whatever actually happened at the retirement home, it appears that the actual final step in the Heimlich maneuver might be boondoggling the press.
Per Mathis-Lilley's headline, the charming "first time" story went viral.

Over the past couple of days I've filed other corrections requests and I'll report the results.

Incidentally, per this clip produced by the public relations firm (Cincinnati's Andy Hemmer PR), my father failed to inform 87-year-old "ostensible choking victim" Patty Ris about the Banker's Club stories: