Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

June 1, 2012

With just a few simple steps, you can save a life

TAHLEQUAH — In the time it takes to peruse a dinner menu, a choking diner at the table next to you could die from oxygen deprivation, unless someone can execute a couple of simple moves to remove the blockage.

Today is National Heimlich Maneuver Day, and Cherokee County Health Department Coordinating Nurse Keri Ratliff believes everyone should know how to perform the lifesaving exercise.

“It’s an easy technique to learn, and most CPR classes include it in the instruction,” said Ratliff. “I think everyone, including older children, should know the Heimlich maneuver.”

Last June, a Coweta 10-year-old saved the life of his best friend, who choked on a gummy worm. Both boys’ mothers are registered nurses. The young man who was choking knew to put both hands around his throat – the universal sign for choking – and his friend, recognizing the sign, rushed to perform the Heimlich maneuver.

According to information provided by Ratliff, Henry Heimlich in 1974 first described an emergency technique for expelling foreign material blocking the trachea. Now known as the Heimlich maneuver, the task is simple enough that it can be performed by anyone with the appropriate training.

Tahlequah City Hospital Educational Coordinator and Registered Nurse Kristi Haney said there are several key warning signs when a person is choking.

“First, a person who is actually choking, whose airway is blocked, cannot cough or speak,” said Haney. “They may exhibit the universal choking sign by putting their hands around their throat, or they may have a weak cough and labored breathing that produces a high-pitched noise.”

The theory behind the act is that through compressing the abdomen below the level of the diaphragm with quick thrusts, an “artificial cough” is created. Air is forced out of the lungs to dislodge the obstruction in the trachea and expel the foreign object.

According to the Heimlich Institute, there are four steps to helping a choking victim:

• From behind, wrap your arms around the victim’s waist.

• Make a fist and place the thumb side of your fist against the victim’s upper abdomen, below the ribcage and above the navel.

• Grasp your fist with your other hand and press into their upper abdomen with a quick, upward thrust. Do not squeeze the ribcage; confine the force of the thrust to your hands.

• Repeat until the object is expelled.

The most important aspect to aiding a choking victim is to never slap the person’s back, as it could make matters worse.

“You can do the Heimlich maneuver on anyone over the age of 1, as long as they are conscious,” said Haney. “If they lose consciousness, use regular CPR.”

In many cases, the Heimlich maneuver is applicable to animals, as well.

Former Tahlequah resident Austin Goodman learned the Heimlich maneuver by watching it performed on television.

“I’ve used it on two dogs and one cat,” said Goodman. “All three were saved.”

Eddie Glenn, former Daily Press staffer, said he, too, has performed the maneuver to save a pet.

“I learned [the Heimlich maneuver] in high school,” said Glenn. “We had to take it when we weren’t driving the car during drivers education. I used it on our dog Cleo when she was choking on a piece of dog food. She would collect chunks of dog food in her mouth and transport them to the couch to eat, just like a hamster does. As she got older, she developed problems with her soft palate, and the mouthful of dog food started to be problematic for her. She was always choking on something.”

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