Monday, March 31, 2014

My letter today requesting Prometheus Books to retract my father's "gross distortion of Vietnamese and U.S. history"

Prometheus Books executives: Steven Mitchell, the late Dr. Paul Kurtz, Lynette Nisbet, Jonathan Kurtz (2002)

Also see my item last month, Prometheus Books publishes my father's long-debunked lie that the American Friends Service Committee provided "tens of thousands" of Heimlich chest valves to the North Vietnamese during the war.

March 31, 2014

Jonathan Kurtz
Prometheus Books
59 John Glenn Drive
Amherst, NY 14228

Dear Mr. Kurtz:

This is to respectfully request a retraction of the following false information in Heimlich’s Maneuvers: My Seventy Years of Lifesaving Innovation, my father's memoir which your company published last month:
I remember another incident in which I was overcome with emotion. It occurred in February 1993, when I was invited to accompany a team of twenty cardiac and thoracic surgeons to Vietnam, a trip arranged by the citizen ambassadors of People to People International...In Hanoi, our plane was met by a contingent of North Vietnamese cardiac and thoracic surgeons. The head of the Vietnamese delegation introduced each member of our team until he came to me.

“Dr. Heimlich, you need no introduction,” I remember him saying. “Everyone in Vietnam knows your name.” I assumed he was talking about the Heimlich Maneuver, but, in fact, he was referring to the chest drain valve. “Your valve has saved tens of thousands of our people during the war, both civilian and military,” he said. I never knew the North Vietnamese had used the valve during the war. It had been supplied to them by the Quaker organization American Friends Service Committee. The next morning, at a meeting of American and Vietnamese doctors, the chairman opened his session saying, “Dr. Heimlich will live forever in the hearts of the Vietnamese people.” Hearing his words, I cried openly.
Per a November 2005 expose published by Radar Magazine, the story was debunked over eight years ago:
Next, Peter (Heimlich and his wife Karen Shulman) took aim at a lesser-known invention, the "Heimlich chest drain valve," which was used on the battlefield in Vietnam to save soldiers from dying of a collapsed lung caused by a chest wound. According to Heimlich's press statements the invention saved tens of thousands of lives, including among the North Vietnamese, after the American Friends Service Committee shipped valves to both sides in the war. Henry often tells the story of a trip to Vietnam during which he received a hero's welcome because of his valve.

But the Quakers have no record of distributing the valve. Peter contacted the American Friends Service Committee, the Quaker group that provides aid in foreign conflicts. "They checked deep in the archives and contacted several staffers from the '60s," says Peter. "No one had even heard of the Heimlich valve." AFSC spokeswoman Janis Shields says that if the valves had been shipped to North Vietnam, there would have been documents. The AFSC's shipments to North Vietnam consisted primarily of penicillin.
In addition to grossly distorting Vietnamese and U.S. history, my father's false claim suggests that the American Friends Service Committee and Becton, Dickinson and Company (the company that manufactures the Heimlich Chest Drain Valve) may have violated laws governing the transfer of medical supplies during wartime.

It's unclear how your editors failed to catch such an obvious falsehood, but in recent weeks I've made best efforts to address the matter.

In a February 16, 2014 e-mail and multiple follow-ups, I asked my father's publicist, Lori Ames, if my father intended to retract the false claim. He has not done so.

Therefore, in a March 10, 2014 e-mail and a follow-up I asked your company's Senior Publicist, Lisa Michalski, if your company intends to address the matter.

I haven't received a reply, hence this outreach to you.

I'm hopeful that you share my interest in correcting the record. With that in mind, I look forward to your reply.

If you have any questions or require additional information, please don't hesitate to get in touch.


Peter M. Heimlich
(Street address redacted)
Duluth, GA 30096

ph: (208)474-7283


The Hon. Nguyen Quoc Cuong, Ambassador, The Socialist Republic of Vietnam to the United States
The Hon. David B. Shear, U.S. Ambassador to The Socialist Republic of Vietnam
The Hon. Rob Woodall, U.S. House of Representatives (GA-7th District)
Alexis Moore, Media Director, American Friends Service Committee (Philadelphia, PA)
Alyssa Zeff, Director, Becton, Dickinson and Company Worldwide Public Relations (Franklin Lakes, NJ)

Click here to view my letter via Scribd. Click here to download a copy.