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? [UPDATED]

UPDATE, 11/10/16: Via Management of Airway Obstruction by Michael R. Sayre MD, Contemporary Cardiology: Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, Humana Press (2005)
Despite widespread education on the use of the Heimlich maneuver and other techniques for treatment of acute airway obstruction, the (US) death rate remains stable.

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:

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Hoist by his own petard? Just in time for today's National Heimlich Maneuver Day, my 96-year-old father punk'd the Cincinnati Enquirer, then the paper gave him a dose of his own medicine -- and there's more...

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine's The Henry J. Heimlich Award for Innovative Medicine

When the history books are written, I predict that my father will finally be awarded the recognition he deserves as a spectacular medical con man and master media manipulator.

As I told the LA Weekly, "My father is such a brilliant promoter, he could teach P.T. Barnum a few tricks."

But last week the master may have gone too far.

On Thursday evening, this headline was attached to a Cincinnati Enquirer article by staff reporter Kevin Grasha:

Less than 24 hours later, the headline and the article were substantially rewritten.

Via the body of the article, here's why (emphasis added):
When he heard that a resident was choking, Perry Gaines, maître d’ for the Deupree House dining room, ran toward the table.

...When Gaines arrived at the table, Dr. Henry Heimlich, a 96-year-old resident of the Deupree House who invented the famous technique for clearing a blocked airway, was standing behind the woman, ready to perform it.

Typically, a staff member would do it. “But,” Gaines said, pausing, “it is Dr. Heimlich.”

Heimlich, who swims and exercises regularly, was able to dislodge a piece of hamburger that had become stuck in 87-year-old Patty Ris’s airway.

...Monday’s incident at the Deupree House was the first time Heimlich...used it to stop someone from choking, he said.
The first time?

Not according to what my father told these four reporters in articles from 2001 through 2006.

Via Private Clubs Newsletter June/August 2001 (via The Wayback Machine):
The story sounds like it could be an urban legend, but it actually happened in the dining room of the Bankers Club in Cincinnati. During a busy lunchtime, a guest of the club began choking as he sat eating at a table. A member sitting at another table promptly rushed to the aid of the victim, wrapped his arms around the man’s waist, and pressed his fist upward into his abdomen, expelling the trapped object from the clogged airway. The quick-thinking member was none other than Dr. Henry Heimlich, who surprisingly had never before performed his namesake Heimlich maneuver in an emergency situation. But the good doctor says performing the maneuver in this scenario was “as easy as that. I’ve practiced enough, I guess, in my life"...At 81 years old, Dr. Heimlich stays active playing tennis, works daily at the Heimlich Institute, and speaks at medical meetings to promote ongoing research being done at the Institute. And if the lunchtime menu includes saving a life, he will always make room for that too. — Louis Marroquin
Via Heimlich: Still saving lives at 83 by Jane Elliott, BBC News, March 9, 2003:
But despite being the inventor of one of the most significant medical techniques, Dr Heimlich told BBC News Online that he has only been called upon once to carry it out himself - and that was just three years ago.

"I was in this club restaurant eating when I heard someone calling Dr Heimlich. I turned around and saw a man choking so I did the Heimlich Manoeuvre and got it out and then went on and had my lunch."
Via Yes, There Really is a Dr. Heimlich And He's Pushing More Uses for his Famous Maneuver by Jim Ritter, Chicago Sun-Times, October 7, 2001:
Twenty-six years after inventing the Heimlich maneuver, Dr. Henry Heimlich finally had an opportunity to try it himself.

Heimlich was having lunch last year when he was urgently called to the side of a man choking on his food. Heimlich wrapped his arms around the man and made a fist against his upper abdomen. He thrust upward and out popped the food. Another life saved.

"I just did it and went back to eating," Heimlich said.

Heimlich said anyone could have done it.
Via Choke Artist by Lauren Collins, The New Yorker, May 8, 2006:
Dr. Heimlich himself said the other day that he has performed the move only once, in Cincinnati.
In a corrections request I e-mailed Friday afternoon to Mr. Grasha and copied Enquirer News Director Michael Kilian, I provided the above articles and also wrote:
It looks like you've been punk'd, but it's unclear how badly. As you may know, for decades my father has provided all sorts of false information to reporters at the Enquirer and plenty of other media outlets. Former Enquirer Robert Anglen busted him on one such fabrication in this March 16, 2003 Sunday front-pager: http://www.enquirer.com/editions/2003/03/16/loc_heimlich16.html

...The New Yorker interview was only a decade ago and although my father's getting up there in years, knowing his keen memory, I'd be surprised if he would have completely forgotten the incident.

Also, this morning you wrote me that my brother Phil Heimlich told you that this was the first time my father ever revived a choking victim using "the Heimlich." As you may know, as longtime vice president of the Heimlich Institute, my brother has a close professional as well as personal relationship with my father and has always lived in Cincinnati. Frankly, it doesn't make sense that Phil would be unaware of my father's choking rescue at the Banker's Club.

Coincidentally, according to this website, this Wednesday June 1 is "National Heimlich Maneuver Day": http://www.nationaldaycalendar.com/days-2/national-heimlich-maneuver-day-june-1/ Did my father, Phil, or anyone else mention that to you?


About an hour later I received this:
From: Michael Kilian <mkilian@CINCINNA.GANNETT.COM>
To: Peter M. Heimlich <peter.heimlich@gmail.com>
CC: Kevin Grasha <kgrasha@CINCINNA.GANNETT.COM>
Subject: RE: corrections request and two quick questions
Date: Fri, 27 May 2016 20:36:59 +0000

Dear Sir –

We will be updating our story before long. Thank you for sharing this information with us.

Mr. Grasha is out of the office for several days. Please refrain from emailing him over the holiday weekend.


Michael Kilian
Later that evening at the same link, the Enquirer disappeared the original story and substituted a significant rewrite co-bylined by Mr. Grasha and staff reporter Bowdeya Tweh that included much of the information provided in my corrections request. (Click here for a copy of the now-MIA original version.)

Here's the current headline, updated from the original At 96, Dr. Heimlich finally uses his life-saving technique:


Via the rewritten article:
Monday might not have been the first time Dr. Henry Heimlich performed his namesake medical procedure on a live choking victim.

...Heimlich told The Enquirer Thursday his encounter with Patty Ris at the Deupree House senior living facility, where they both live, was the first time he ever performed it on a person needing immediate aid. However, several published reports in the early 2000s from news outlets ranging from the BBC to the Chicago Sun-Times show interviews with Heimlich describing himself using the maneuver. In one interview, he said he helped a man at the former private dining club, the Banker's Club, in Downtown Cincinnati in 2001.

...Cincinnati.com initially published a story late Thursday about the incident, quoting Heimlich as saying this was the first time he'd ever performed his own maneuver on someone. But then one of his sons, Peter Heimlich, reached out to media organizations pointing out the existence of articles roughly 15 years ago.
Not even my brother Phil -- who for decades has been my father's right-hand man and attack dog -- would back him up this time:
Another son, local attorney Phil Heimlich, said he doesn't recall those media reports.
"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."
This video clip may be the reason why.

It comes from a five-minute video interview of Phil that was widely-distributed to the media last week by Episcopal Retirement Services, which owns and operates Deupree House (more about that below):

Then the Enquirer's coup de grâce:
...It isn't the first time Heimlich's statements have been challenged. In 2003, The Enquirer reported that Romanian surgeon Dr. Dan Gavriliu disputed statements from the Cincinnati doctor that he developed an operation that uses a section of the stomach to bypass the esophagus. The Romanian doctor claimed Heimlich took credit for a procedure he developed years earlier.
In other words, when the Enquirer realized that my father had punk'd them, the paper responded by reminding readers about this singular March 16, 2003 expose (based on research by my wife Karen and me, and my outreach to the Enquirer in 2002):

Via Dr. Heimlich Performs His Maneuver at Cincinnati’s Deupree House by Bryan Reynolds, Episcopal Retirement Services Premier Senior Living Blog, May 27, 2016, here's a curious coincidence:

In order to promote the recent choking rescue story, Episcopal Retirement Services prepared this promotional package of videos and photographs and a downloadable copy of my father's 2014 memoir, Heimlich's Maneuvers:

Click here to download a copy of the book.

What's missing?

My father included no mention of his alleged 2001 Banker's Club choking rescue.

In other words, my father punk'd the Enquirer, my brother Phil, and Episcopal Retirement Services.

My father may not be the master scammer he used to be -- the Banker's Club turned out to be an exploding cigar -- but that's not too shabby for a 96-year-old.


Big hat tip to McKinight's editor James M. Berklan for his lively column today, This lifesaving coincidence definitely makes you swallow deeply, which steered me to the ERS promo kit. Don't miss reading his skeptical  review of the Deupree House event, today's National Heimlich Maneuver Day festivities, and my brother Phil's involvement. 

My favorite line? A better-timed rescue P.T. Barnum couldn't have orchestrated.

Here's Phil's bemused, chin-rubbing take on the coincidence: