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:

...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": 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 <>
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. 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: