The Art of Compassion
25th Anniversary Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine


Henry J. Heimlich, M.D. Award for Innovative Medicine

Dr. Henry J. Heimlich’s ability to see innovative and surprisingly simple solutions to seemingly insurmountable health problems has saved countless lives. Dr. Heimlich received his B.A. degree from Cornell University in 1941, and his M.D. from Cornell Medical College in 1943.

While assigned to a U.S. Naval Group in China during World War II, Dr. Heimlich tested an innovative treatment for victims of trachoma, an incurable bacterial infection of the eyelids that caused blindness throughout Asia and the Middle East. A mixture of sulfadiazine ground into a base of shaving cream proved effective, and the staff used the treatment successfully on hundreds of people. In the 1950s, a month after completing training in general and chest surgery, Dr. Heimlich developed an operation to replace the esophagus in cases of severe birth defects or other problems. He presented the results at an American Medical Association meeting in 1961, and it is still used today.

Haunted by the image of a Chinese soldier who died on the operating table after being shot in the chest in 1945, Dr. Heimlich developed a valve that would drain blood and air out of the chest cavity. In 1964, the Heimlich Chest Drain Valve was introduced. The device was barely five inches long and cost just $1 to produce, but it made Dr. Heimlich a hero in the Vietnam War era, saving the lives of thousands of wounded American and Vietnamese soldiers. Today more than 250,000 Heimlich valves are used worldwide each year to treat patients with chest wounds or following surgery.

In 1974, Dr. Heimlich published findings on what was to become the Heimlich Maneuver. Since its introduction, the Heimlich Maneuver has saved more than 50,000 people in the United States alone from choking or drowning.

In 1980, Dr Heimlich conceived of the MicroTrachtm, a tiny tube inserted into the trachea at the base of the neck under local anesthesia. Immediately approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the MicroTrachtm has many advantages over other methods of oxygen delivery. During the 1980s, Dr. Heimlich also developed a method for teaching stroke victims and other patients who were fed through a tube to swallow again.

Dr. Heimlich’s work with PCRM began in the late 1980s, when he spoke out against the cruel dog-drowning experiments some had proposed for testing the Heimlich Maneuver. He later narrated a video produced by PCRM and the Massachusetts General Hospital to illustrate Harvard Medical School’s new alternative to animal laboratories in medical education. Working with PCRM’s president Neal Barnard, M.D., he produced a series of public service announcements on first aid, preventive medicine, and nutrition, and spoke out for the reform of federal dietary guidelines.

Dr. Heimlich is the embodiment of innovation, compassion, and getting the job done. His work has inspired researchers and medical students to break convention, think creatively, and focus on what counts: saving lives. 

In 2007, this award was presented to Randal Charlton of Asterand.

In 2005, this award was presented to Chris Toly of SimuLab Corporation.


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