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How to Save a Life. Learn How to Administer the Heimlich Maneuver

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You love it when your daughter laughs. Her wide grin and tightly closed eyes paired with her high pitched giggle are infectious. Making her laugh over family dinner is the best part of your day. Until something goes wrong—desperately, tragically wrong. Her laugh turns into a frightened, shocked expression. She’s gesturing toward her throat and banging her hands on the table, eyes wide and frantic.

She’s choking.

Would you know what to do? You’ve heard of the Heimlich Maneuver and seen the posters on restaurant walls for years, but in a moment when seconds count, would you know how to save the life of a loved one?

About 4,000 adults die annually from choking, and even more devastatingly, one child dies every five days in the U.S. as a result of choking. Every parent, child, friend, sibling, and adult should know how to administer the Heimlich Maneuver so that if the unthinkable happens, you can confidently respond with this life-saving tactic. Read on to learn the basics of how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver when someone—anyone—is choking.

What is the Heimlich Maneuver?

Also known as abdominal thrusts, the Heimlich Maneuver was invented by the American thoracic surgeon Henry Heimlich. It is a technique to aid a person who is choking by applying rapid, quick thrusts to the person’s abdomen to lift the diaphragm and expel air from the lungs, causing the expulsion of the object lodged in the airway.

How to Perform the Heimlich Maneuver

Note that the instructions below only apply when the victim is not:

  • You
  • A pregnant woman
  • An obese adult
  • An infant

Techniques vary when the victim is any of the individuals listed above. For more information, visit The Mayo Clinic.

  1. Determine if you need to intervene. If the victim is conscious and coughing (i.e., some air is coming out of their mouth), breathing, or speaking, then he or she may be able to dispel the object on their own. Give them a few seconds to attempt to work through the situation unaided. If the individual’s condition worsens, or they stop breathing, proceed to step two.
  2. Instruct someone nearby to call 9-1-1. If you are in public and are not alone with the victim, instruct someone nearby to call for emergency responders. Even if the victim recovers and regains their breath, they may suffer from damage to their throat as a result of temporarily having food or a foreign object lodged in their airway. Having the victim assessed by medical professionals is always a conservative and wise decision.
  3. Have the person stand up. You will need them to be erect to perform the Heimlich Maneuver.
  4. Stand behind the victim.
  5. Lean the victim forward and give five blows to his or her back with the heel of your hand. If the back blows do not dislodge the object, proceed to step number six.
  6. Place your arms around the victim’s waist.
  7. With one hand, make a first just above his or her belly button with your thumb facing in toward the victim’s body.
  8. Wrap your other hand around your fist.
  9. With your arms, firmly push simultaneously inward and upward on the victim’s abdomen five times. This movement is called abdomen thrusts.
  10. Continue until the object is expelled or the victim can breathe, cough, or talk, or emergency personnel arrives.

Any of us could find ourselves in a situation where we are someone’s first line of defense in a dangerous and potentially deadly situation. By understanding the basics of life-saving first aid, we could save the life of a stranger or a loved one. Regardless of who they are, theirs is a life worth saving, and knowing the Heimlich Maneuver could give you the confidence you need to become an everyday hero.

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