Breathing is essential, a fact we're reminded of when it's suddenly compromised. Choking is a silent threat that claims over 4,800 lives annually, particularly alarming for children under 4, where it's the fourth leading cause of accidental death. Learning the Heimlich Maneuver—a skill within reach for most—is vital.
Dr. Henry Heimlich, the man behind the maneuver, demonstrated its power at 96 by saving a life. The technique he pioneered—abdominal thrusts—forces air from the lungs, dislodging obstructions. As a seasoned firefighter, I've used this method in emergencies and witnessed its success in saving lives. The good news is, you don't have to be a professional to perform it effectively.
How to save a person from choking
If your victim is talking, then they are breathing, but if they are gagging or coughing because they have a partial obstruction, then we need to have them continue to cough, sometimes raising their arms above their heads relaxes the neck muscles and allows them to cough up the object more easily.
If they can’t cough it up within 60 seconds you need to call 9-1-1 to get help coming. They can’t live like this. But, do not give them water- that can close off the little air that is getting into the lungs. Do not strike on the back, as this can cause the object to move and cause a complete obstruction.
Now, if they can’t cough or speak then you need to take immediate action to clear their airway.
First, ask them if they are choking, then tell them you are going to give them abdominal thrusts to help them breathe.
Second, get behind your victim and reach around the stomach and find the belly button with your index finger. This is your landmark for the diaphragm- the breathing muscle.
Then make fist with the other hand, placing the thumb side of your fist just above the navel. This should keep your arms just below their ribcage to avoid injuring the victim.
Now grab that fist with your other hand and begin forcibly thrusting inward and upward repeatedly, until the victim coughs up the object.
Of course, someone should of been on their way to the phone to call 9-1-1, just in case it doesn’t work. My guess is, you will have saved their life before the call can even be made. It works that fast.
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