Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Who Saved Otto Klug? Investigating a 75-year-old Connecticut mystery -- my father's "first save" or his first media scam?

I'm co-publishing this article with the February 2017 issue of Connecticut's Kent Historical Society Newsletter. I'm grateful to the organization and especially to Executive Director Brian Thomas who invited me to write the article and did a first-rate editing job. Click here for the hard copy version.

So-called “alternative facts” are nothing new. Here’s an intriguing example tied to a dramatic, high-profile event that happened about 75 years ago in Litchfield County.

It starts with an August 29, 1941 front page New York Times article, “Children Escape in Train Wreck; 2 of Crew Killed,” about a massive train wreck in Kent. Six cars carrying hundreds of campers derailed into Hatch Pond. Two trainmen were killed and a third had a leg amputated.

The article concluded with information provided by “Henry Heimlich, 21, of 30 West Ninetieth Street, a sailing counselor at Camp Mah-kee-nac and a premedical student at Cornell University, who was…the ‘hero’ of the accident.”
"I was riding in the next-to-the-last coach," Heimlich related, “when suddenly there was a lurch...I ran forward and jumped out. I saw that the engine and the first car were almost submerged and that the fireman’s leg was caught under the steps of the second car which had overturned. He was lying in about four feet of water.

"He was floundering around, hysterical, and I ran toward him and held his head above the water...

"He was all black and he was crying that he was afraid he'd lose his leg. Another counselor, Jack Handelsman, who is also a pre-medical student jumped into a boat nearby and rowed out to help me. Then a lot of people came and while I held the fireman up they started digging underneath with their hands, and later with shovels, to free his leg.”
A few months later, the Times published a follow-up item with a photo of the handsome 21-year-old pre-med student receiving an award for bravely saving the life of the train fireman.

The sailing counselor and apparent hero was my father, Henry J. Heimlich MD, who died a couple of months ago. If the name rings a bell, it’s probably because of a choking rescue treatment he first called “the Heimlich method” in the June 1974 medical journal Emergency Medicine. Only two years later, what had been renamed “the Heimlich maneuver” was incorporated into national first aid guidelines. Since then my family name became a household word and my father’s namesake treatment has been credited with saving the lives of thousands of choking victims.

Fast forward to Spring 2002 when my wife Karen and I began researching my father’s career. To our astonishment, we uncovered an unseen history of fraud that revealed him to be a remarkable charlatan and serial liar. Most shocking, he’d used nonexistent or fraudulent data in order to promote a string of crackpot medical claims that resulted in serious injuries and deaths.

In order to prevent more harm, we decided to bring the information to public attention via the press. Since 2003, our work has been the basis for a couple hundred mainstream media reports that exposed what one medical journal called my father’s “overreach and quackery.”

My dad was no slouch when it came to singing his own praises to anyone in earshot and I was no exception. Most of our time together consisted of him telling me about his achievements and awards, especially after he became famous.

And that was my first problem with the train wreck story – over the decades he never mentioned it to me. I only learned about it in the early months of our research when Karen and I happened upon the 1941 New York Times articles.

My interest was piqued, so about 14 years ago, I decided to take a closer look.

Via public libraries in Connecticut, I obtained copies of every article I could find about the headline-making disaster. I also contacted Marge Smith at the Kent Historical Society who sent me some paperwork from their files and put me in touch with Emily Krizan, whose husband, Joseph Krizan Jr., reportedly participated in rescue efforts at the train wreck, including helping the trapped fireman, whose name was Otto Klug.

Interestingly, none of the articles and none of the people with whom I communicated said anything about any camp counselor (or my father by name) being involved in the rescue.

Instead, they near-unanimously identified a local resident named Jack Bartovic as the person responsible for holding Klug’s head above water for hours. Local residents Charles Dutcher Edwards and Philip Camp were also identified as participants in the rescue.

The most compelling telling was a lengthy August 29, 1941 Waterbury Republican article consisting of detailed interviews with Bartovic and Emily’s husband:
Joseph Krizan, Jr., had seen the locomotive and cars topple off the track into Hatch Pond at South Kent yesterday as he was mowing the grass in front of his mother's house, just off the South Kent Road.

He and a friend, Jack Bartovic, ran toward the accident as fast as they could...Krizan was the first person to reach the scene. Bartovic didn't get into the car, because he saw a man half in and half out of the water, a short distance away at the other end of the car. It was the fireman, Otto Klug, of Seymour.

Bartovic waded in and held Klug's head above water, for his leg was caught. Later they found it had been almost severed and a doctor wanted to cut it off and get Klug out of there, but Klug said, "My leg isn't bad. I won't let you cut if off. I'll wait until the crane gets here and they lift the car off me."

So Bartovic stayed with him for more than two hours, and the crane lifted the car and then Klug saw that his leg was hanging only by flesh.

Krizan and Bartovic told their stories as they watched the wrecking crew working on the derailed trains in the late afternoon sunlight that slated off the green quiet hills.
In a March 25, 2003 e-mail, Marge Smith wrote me: “Emily Krizan stopped by here today with some thoughts for me to pass along to you… (She got into a discussion with Marge [Edwards]) Richards, who is sure that her husband was the one to hold up Klug's head. But we feel positive that several people had that task, as the poor man was in the water for many hours. Emily and her husband had a dear friend named Jack Bartovic (no longer alive), who also held up Klug's head. Many years later, Klug knocked on Jack's door and came in to thank him for helping to save his life. Jack said he remembered Klug begging them to save his leg because he could feel it.”

At the time I also interviewed Jacob “Jack” Handelsman – the camp counselor my father told the Times reporter had “rowed out to help me.” Dr. Handelsman, then a prominent surgeon at Johns Hopkins, vividly recalled how he and my father safely escorted the young campers off the train to the road adjacent to the tracks. However, he'd never heard anything about my father being involved in Klug's rescue and didn’t remember anything about a rowboat. When I asked him about the bravery award given to my father, he expressed surprise because they'd remained friends and my dad had never told him about it.

Via my father's 2014 memoir, Heimlich's Maneuvers. Click here for a copy of the chapter.

My father's 2014 memoir recounted the Hatch Pond train wreck in which he portrayed himself as a lone hero who had "been in the water (with Klug) for two hours" until "police and medical personnel finally arrived." More recently, his obituary in the December 19 Wall Street Journal repeated the 1941 New York Times version about how my father “held up the head of one of the train workers until help was able to arrive.”

In the course of corresponding with the Journal about the apparent roles of Jack Bartovic and other area residents, I again reached out to the Kent Historical Society. That resulted in a gracious invitation to write this article which I hope generates more information from readers. To get the ball rolling, I composed and uploaded this page to to my website that includes all articles and related information I’ve obtained: http://medfraud.info/OttoKlug.html

Do you have more documents and/or information to share? If so, please contact me and/or the Kent Historical Society.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Did NY Times standards editor Greg Brock & public editor Liz Spayd violate Integrity Guidelines? I've asked the paper's attorney who handles employee concerns


On January 31, the Washington Post ran Media outlets choke on Heimlich obituaries by Erik Wemple about my string of successful requests for published corrections for errors in obituaries about my father.

He suggested that the corrections/amendments I got "from some of the biggest names in the news business, over a single news topic" may be a record.

Needless to say, journalists can be reluctant to publish corrections, therefore I was impressed by the professionalism and courtesy I experienced at most of those news outlets.

Then there's the New York Times.

Robert D. McFadden's December 17, 2016 Times obituary about my father included some factual errors along with what I considered to be some reportorial errors.


In response to polite, thoroughly-documented inquiries and my patient follow-ups that dragged on for weeks, I got the bum's rush, first from standards editor Greg Brock and then from public editor Liz Spayd, both of whom refused to discuss any of the facts. They both just told me to take a hike.

So I hiked over to Mr. Wemple at the Post.

After he followed up on my behalf, Mr. Brock was shamed into doing his job -- at least part of it.

That is, the Times published one correction, but failed to address another factual error as well as some reportorial concerns I brought to their attention.

According to the paper’s Guidelines on Integrity
Reporters, editors, photographers and all members of the news staff of The New York Times share a common and essential interest in protecting the integrity of the newspaper. As the news, editorial and business leadership of the newspaper declared jointly in 1998: "Our greatest strength is the authority and reputation of The Times. We must do nothing that would undermine or dilute it and everything possible to enhance it."

...(It) means that the journalism we practice daily must be beyond reproach.

Corrections. Because our voice is loud and far-reaching, The Times recognizes an ethical responsibility to correct all its factual errors, large and small. The paper regrets every error, but it applauds the integrity of a writer who volunteers a correction of his or her own published story. Whatever the origin, though, any complaint should be relayed to a responsible supervising editor and investigated quickly. If a correction is warranted, fairness demands that it be published immediately. In case of reasonable doubt or disagreement about the facts, we can acknowledge that a statement was "imprecise" or "incomplete" even if we are not sure it was wrong
Re: the processing of my corrections request, I wanted to learn if Mr. Brock, Ms. Spayd, or others had violated those or other employee guidelines, so today I sent this inquiry to Marcijane Kraft, an attorney at the paper who handles concerns about employees.

After I receive her response, I'll report it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Complaint re: two Greensboro, NC, apparel companies filed with state Attorney General by London executive

London-based business executive Demi Bender is the daughter of my friend, the formidable medical journalist Marika Sborbos.

Today Demi sent a consumer complaint to the Attorney General of North Carolina about a couple of Greensboro apparel companies.

According to her letter, she ordered merchandise from one of them -- Lotus Leggings -- never got the goods, and the company has ignored her follow-up inquiries.

She also learned that there's apparently a sister company at the same address -- a mailbox at a US Postal station -- called Lulu Tops.

Based on the links to consumer review websites in her letter, both companies appear to have, um, fallen short when it comes to customer satisfaction.

For example, here's a YouTube video posted a year ago called Lulu Tops Took My Money (which includes some lively posted comments).

The Sidebar prides itself as a platform for fashionista consumer advocacy, so I invited Demi to post her complaint here.

I've redacted her e-mail address, but you may send her a tweet here.

Friday, February 3, 2017

For decades PETA president Ingrid Newkirk has campaigned against using animals in medical research, but says she probably owes her life to my father's namesake maneuver -- which was developed using dogs as research models

PETA president and cofounder Ingrid Newkirk and a four-legged friend (source)

Ingrid Newkirk is the well-known president and cofounder of People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) which for decades has campaigned against the use of animals in medical research.

Ironically, she says she probably owes her life to medical research in which dogs were used as experimental subjects.

As widely reported, my father died on December 16. A few days ago Ms. Newkirk posted this remembrance on an online web page commemorating my father's life:

Via her introduction to my father's essay in One Can Make A Difference:
I am including Dr. Heimlich as an essayist because I not only admire him and have enjoyed knowing hint personally - he is full of good jokes and clever thoughts and is staunchly opposed to animal experiments - but because he has saved countless people's lives. In fact, while the Heimlich maneuver has saved the lives of celebrities such as Cher, Goldie Hawn, and even former president Ronald Reagan, it also probably saved mine.
One morning I was, as usual, doing too many things at once, dashing about in the office, eating a breakfast sandwich, and putting paper in the copier, when I choked. It was early and only the man who vacuums our carpets was in the building, somewhere downstairs. I suddenly realized how difficult it would be, even if I could find hint quickly, to get him to understand that my airway was blocked, that I couldn't breathe. Drawing on what I remembered of Dr. Heimlich's advice, I thrust myself forward, with force, over a chair. That action dislodged the bit of sandwich and I could breathe again.
Via Pop Goes the Cafe Coronary, my father's first article describing what he then called "the Heimlich method," published in the June 1974 issue of the journal Emergency Medicine (EM):
The procedure is adapted from experimental work with four 38-pound beagles, in which I was assisted by surgical research technician Michael H. McNeal. After being given an intravenous anesthetic, each dog was "strangled" with a size 32 cuffed endotracheal tube inserted into the larynx. After the cuff was distended to create total obstruction of the trachea, the animal went into immediate respiratory distress as evidenced by spasmodic, paradoxical respiratory movements of the chest and diaphragm. At this point, with a sudden thrust. I pressed the palm of my hand deeply and firmly into the abdomen of the animal a short distance below the rib cage, thereby pushing upward on the diaphragm. The endotracheal tube popped out of the trachea and, after several labored respirations, the animal began to breathe normally. This procedure was even more effective when the other hand maintained constant pressure on the lower abdomen directing almost all the pressure toward the diaphragm.

We repeated the experiment more than 20 times on each animal with the same excellent results When a bolus of raw hamburger was substituted for the endotracheal tube, it, too, was ejected by the same procedure, always after one or two compressions.

...Should you use, or learn of anyone, using, the Heimlich method, by the way, please report the results either to EM or to me.
Does Ms. Newkirk owe her life to those four "strangled" beagles? Obviously, that's impossible to determine, but it's certainly a brain teaser.

Here's another puzzler to ponder.

If my father and Mr. McNeal had never conducted the research using the beagles, his namesake maneuver might never have come to be.

As a determined advocate against the use of animals in research, would Ms. Newkirk have preferred that they not have conducted research that may have saved her life and which -- according to Erik Wemple's January 31, 2017 Washington Post article about my recent success obtaining published corrections to errors in a number of my father's obituaries -- has been "credited with saving thousands of people from choking to death..."?

I'm e-mailing that question to Ms. Newkirk with an invitation to provide any additional comment.

Note: I have zero expertise regarding the use of animals in medical research, so I have no positions or opinions on the subject.