- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Henry Jay Heimlich

Born 1920
Died

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American thoracic surgeon, born 1920.

Biography of Henry Jay Heimlich

Henry Jay Heimlich graduated from Cornell medical School. He worked for many years in New York City, but in 1977 he transferred to Xavier University in Cincinnati to become professor of advanced clinical sciences. Here he is now President of the Heimlich Institute. His main field of study is disorders of the alimentary tract. However, it is his procedure for saving a choking victim that has made Heimlich a household name. Heimlich is a vegetarian.

A maverick?
Recently (2003) Heimlich has been heavily criticized for taking credit for an operation that he knew was first performed by the Romanian surgeon Dan Gavriliu behind the iron curtain. Whonamedit does not have the capacity to go into details, but these are some of the facts (we believe) behind the controversy:

Before Heimlich wrote his first article about the "Heimlich Operation" on dogs in 1955, the procedure had been performed several times on humans by Dr. Dan Gavriliu. Heimlich has claimed that he came up with the idea in 1950, and that he didn't know that Gavriliu had been doing the surgery on human patients until after he wrote his first paper. According to Heimlich, doctors in the United States did not communicate with doctors behind the Iron Curtain.

Following his publication in 1955, Heimlich was contacted by Gavriliu, who said he had been using the procedure on humans since 1951 and had successfully operated on 50 patients. Gavriliu first published on the operation in 1951

In 1956 Heimlich visited Romania and assisted Gavriliu in an oesophagus replacement operation. In a paper published in 1957, also in Surgery, Heimlich credited Gavriliu. He also has credited Gavriliu in some medical journals. Despite those acknowledgements, Heimlich for years seems to have taken full credit for the operation, changing the name from Gavriliu's Operation to the Gavriliu-Heimlich Operation, and then to Heimlich's operation later on.

Heimlich performed his first successful oesophagus operation on a human patient on April 20, 1957, at New York Medical College-Metropolitan Hospital Medical Center.

    "My ultimate goal is to avoid needless death and promote well-being for the largest number of people by establishing a philosophy that will eliminate war."
    Heimlich in Who's Who in America.

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