Wednesday, October 30, 2013

After years of delay (and a canceled contract), Prometheus Books is publishing my father's autobiography -- here's a preview

Via Heimlich's Latest Maneuvers by Cleveland writer Mary Mihaly in Health Monitor, December 2009/January 2010:
Dr. “Hank” Heimlich may be the most famous doctor in the world...Inevitably, talk turns to his “latest maneuver”- his upcoming autobiography, Heimlich’s Maneuvers, to be published shortly by Bartleby Press.
The book never appeared, so presumably Bartleby preferred not to publish.

Four years and another publisher later, the wait may be over.


According to Amazon, my father's 230-page autobiography is scheduled to be released by Prometheus Books, based in Amherst, New York, on February 11, a week after his 94th birthday.

Last week at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (source)

Here's the Table of Contents which I received from Lisa Michalski, Senior Publicist at Prometheus:

Foreword by Guy Carpico
Author’s Note
CHAPTER 1: Heeeeere’s Heimlich!
CHAPTER 2: My Beginnings
CHAPTER 3: The Depression, Anti-Semitism, and Visits to Sing Sing Prison
CHAPTER 4: Medical School Challenges and a Strange Internship
CHAPTER 5: En Route to China
CHAPTER 6: A Health Clinic in the Gobi Desert
CHAPTER 7: A Medical Newbie Searches for a Surgical Residency
CHAPTER 8: Saving a Life and Finding Love
CHAPTER 9: Restoring the Ability to Swallow: The Reversed Gastric Tube Operation
CHAPTER 10: Taking the Reversed Gastric Tube Operation behind the Iron Curtain
CHAPTER 11: A Promise to a Dead Soldier Kept: The Heimlich Chest Drain Valve
CHAPTER 12: A Boy Named Hayani
CHAPTER 13: Saving the Lives of Choking Victims: The Heimlich Maneuver
CHAPTER 14: The American Red Cross and Back Blows
CHAPTER 15: The Gift of Breath: The Heimlich MicroTrach
CHAPTER 16: Making the Most of Good Ideas
CHAPTER 17: Working toward a Caring World

Hey, where's "malariotherapy," the notorious human experiments conducted for decades by Cincinnati's Heimlich Institute in which U.S. and foreign nationals suffering from cancer, Lyme Disease, and AIDS were infected with malaria, resulting in investigations by three federal agencies and UCLA?

And I don't see a chapter heading about my father's decades of relentless campaigning to promote the use of the Heimlich maneuver to revive near-drowning victims, a depraved crusade based on dubious case reports that resulted in who knows how many dead kids.

How about when he was dismissed as Director of Surgery at Cincinnati's Jewish Hospital in May 1977? Does he tell about the outrageous episode that precipitated his firing? That would probably increase sales.

What about his close relationships with doctors who lost their licenses for massive overprescribing of narcotics? One was Marilyn Monroe's Dr. Feelgood and two did jail stretches. Wouldn't that make a lively chapter?

And Chapter 8's "Finding Love," does that refer to his marriage or to his reckless sexual promiscuity, some of which my mother, the late Jane Heimlich, shared in her memoir?

And what about the late Edward A. Patrick MD PhD, my father's 30-year colleague and co-author?

During his singular career, Dr. Patrick obtained a string of state medical licenses using squiffy credentials provided by my father, was involved in every aspect of the Heimlich maneuver, and, per his full-page obituary in the March 13, 2010 British Medical Journal, claimed to be the uncredited co-developer of the treatment -- which he called "the Patrick-Heimlich maneuver."

I asked Ms. Michalski, who replied:
There is no mention of Edward A. Patrick.

How about my father's widely-published claim that in 2001 he rescued a choking victim at a Cincinnati restaurant by performing "the Heimlich maneuver"? That's a headline-maker sure to sell plenty of copies.

Via Ms. Michalski:
We have not found any mention of a 2001 incident of Dr. Heimlich saving someone with the Heimlich maneuver in a Cincinnati restaurant.

Then there's this March 16, 2003 front-page Cincinnati Enquirer article:
For more than 40 years, Cincinnati icon Dr. Henry Heimlich has been taking credit for a world-famous operation that was actually developed first by a Romanian surgeon behind the Iron Curtain.

In interviews, biographies and promotional materials, Heimlich has told anyone who would listen that he performed the world's first total organ replacement.
But even before Heimlich wrote his first article about the "Heimlich Operation" on dogs in 1955, the procedure had been performed dozens of times on humans by Romanian surgeon Dr. Dan Gavriliu, an Enquirer investigation has found.
Gavriliu now calls Heimlich a "liar and a thief." He says Heimlich not only took credit for the operation, but also lied when he said they co-authored a paper for an international surgery conference.
..."Let Heimlich be a pig if he wants to steal an operation and put his name on it," says retired New York surgeon Eugene Albu. "He changed the name from the Gavriliu Operation to the Gavriliu-Heimlich Operation. Then it became the Heimlich Operation later on."
Six years later, from the 2009 article about the (aborted) Bartleby book:
Among other highlights, the book recounts how, in 1953, Dr. Heimlich launched his career by creating a surgical procedure for replacing the esophagus....
And via a Cincinnati TV report this year:

So which version is Prometheus running with?

Ms. Michalski:
Dr. Heimlich does credit Dr. Dan Gavriliu, in fact, it’s the basis of chapter 10, “Taking the Reversed Gastric Tube Operation behind the Iron Curtain.” According to the manuscript, Dr. Gavriliu had been performing the operation since 1951 (Heimlich first performed it in 1955).
Finally, here's her reply when I asked for the name of the Prometheus editor responsible for the content and accuracy of the book:
Our authors are, first and foremost, responsible for the content of their books. During the production process, if the editors working on the book have questions about accuracy, clarity, sources, or the like, these are sent to the author for review and response.
Psst, a word to the wise for those editors....

Re: "questions about accuracy, clarity, sources, or the like," I have a pretty good idea what's in these chapters:

CHAPTER 6: A Health Clinic in the Gobi Desert
CHAPTER 11: A Promise to a Dead Soldier Kept: The Heimlich Chest Drain Valve 

I'd strongly recommend you ask my father to provide you with a release to obtain his service records from the United States Navy.

And I'll bet you a Heimlich valve that he won't.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Did Cincinnati's FOX19 just suggest that my father may not have invented "the Heimlich"? (plus my FOX19 corrections request saga)

A couple days ago I sent a request to the National Science Foundation to investigate junk reporting by Radiolab, a syndicated NPR show that was awarded a $1.5 million NSF grant. From my letter:
(Articles) in the British Medical Journal, Boston Herald, Radar magazine and other publications have questioned whether my father deserves credit for inventing “the Heimlich maneuver.”
Via The Choke Artist by Jason Zengerle, The New Republic, April 23, 2007:
"I don't think my father invented anything," Peter (Heimlich) said, "but his own mythology."
Via Tri-State veterans take last Honor Flight of the year, posted by Cincinnati's FOX19 the same day I sent my letter to the NSF:

"Widely credited"?

If that's a note of doubt, it's an improvement on Another Side of Dr. Henry Heimlich, a treacly, pseudo-intimate portrait by FOX19 reporter Tricia Macke that aired May 5th.

Not including the hooey about my parents' "fairy tale" marriage, I caught three factual errors in her story. 

Here's a 5-second clip of the most obvious glitch:

Here's a screenshot of a front-page article in the March 16, 2003 Cincinnati Enquirer:

The day after Macke's report aired, I sent her a courteous corrections request and included the Enquirer article.

I didn't receive a reply to that or to my follow up, so I sent e-mails and left a voice message for the station's assistant news director.

She didn't respond, so I e-mailed Susana Schuler, Vice President of News at Raycom Media, FOX19's parent company.

Susana Schuler (source)
She punted it to FOX19 News Director Kevin Roach, who sent me this:
Subject: Re: corrections request
From: Kevin Roach
Date: 6/5/2013 7:27 AM
To: Peter Heimlich
CC: Susana Schuler, Steve Ackermann, Bill Lanesey, Tricia Macke

I've been out of the office. I will get back to you by end of the week.
Kevin Roach (source)
Contrary to Roach's assurance, he never got  back to me. Since then I've sent him a string of courteous follow-up e-mails, but nary a response.

As Yogi Berra might put it, maybe he's busy ignoring other problems.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Radiolab's junk reporting: my investigation requests to the National Science Foundation & WNYC -- and some surprising statistics about choking deaths [UPDATED]

Jad Abumrad & Robert Krulwich, Radiolab co-hosts and co-investigators on the $1.5m NSF grant (source)
In his May 1st CityBeat column, veteran reporter/journalism professor/media critic Ben Kaufman addressed some serious reportorial problems in an audio  documentary about my father produced by Radiolab, a widely-syndicated NPR show that's based at WNYC.

As documented in an investigation request letter I sent today to the National Science Foundation, those problems were just the tip of the iceberg.

NSF Award #1114623, Radiolab: What Curiosity Sounds Like; Discovering, Challenging, And Sharing Scientific Ideas

From my letter, addressed to Richard Duschl PhD, director of the NSF division that oversees the grant:
I'm troubled that this program is supported by tax dollars. Based on the following information, Radiolab's brand of journalism includes: failing to correct provably false information; reporting information known to be false; reporting fabricated information; cutting unethical deals to obtain interviews; obtaining interviews and information under false pretenses; and censorship.

Astoundingly, all that malfeasance occurred in the reporting of a single story, The Man Behind the Maneuver, a 25-minute documentary about my father, Henry J. Heimlich MD, known for "the Heimlich maneuver."

...(This) is to request that the NSF conduct a thorough review of Radiolab's editorial policies and NSF's oversight of the grant, and that further funding be frozen until the review is completed.
For details, click here to download a copy or page down to view my letter, an eight-page shopping list of the story's junk reporting.

[10/28/13 UPDATE: This morning I sent a near-identical investigation request to Dean Cappello, Chief Content Officer and Senior Vice President of Programming at WNYC Radio, the NPR flagship station that produces Radiolab. Click here to view, click here to download.]

Even if you don't want to go into those weeds, check out this go-round I had with Pat Walters, who reported and produced the story because it leads to information that may surprise you: 
(During a two-hour interview he conducted with me last December, Mr. Walters) asked me whether I thought that “the good my father had accomplished outweighed the bad.” I asked him to clarify – that is, what “good” and “bad” was he referring to? He replied that regardless of the harm for which my father may be responsible, “the Heimlich maneuver has saved the lives of many thousands of choking victims.”

I then asked him for the source of that number. He replied that it came from choking death statistics published by the National Safety Council. (I'm familiar with those statistics, so I realized he didn't know what he was talking about.) I replied that I'd answer his question after he reviewed those figures and got back to me.

About a week later, I received this in a December 27, 2012 e-mail from Mr. Walters:

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 here's what Mr. Walters reported:
(Thousands) and thousands – maybe even millions – have been rescued by the Heimlich maneuver.
In an e-mail to Mr. Walters shortly after his story aired, I asked how he arrived at the “thousands and thousands – maybe even millions” figure? From his March 8 reply:
The maneuver has been around for 38 years. If 52 people have been saved by it in each year of its existence, it has saved “thousands” of lives over the course of its existence.
In other words, he ignored his own conclusion about the NSC data, and chose to make up and report his own.

My highlighting (source)

Squiffy reporting aside, take another look at what he wrote:
(Since the introduction of the Heimlich maneuver in 1974) the rate (of choking deaths) 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.
Click here for the NSC's 2011 edition of Injury Facts. Choking deaths per capita, collected from 1943-2009, are on pages 55-56.

I have no expertise in statistics, but that's how the numbers look to me, too. 

But according to Cincinnati's Heimlich Institute:
Since its introduction, the Heimlich Maneuver has saved over 50,000 people in the United States alone.
Any statistics experts want to chime in?

This item has been slightly revised.