Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Heimlich himself spreads news on famous maneuver

Sue Gerard is recovering from a fall. This is an updated version of a piece that originally appeared in the Tribune in 1994.

When the Missouri State Games were just beginning to roll, I ran a few errands for our son Walt, the bicycling commissioner.

Things were quiet at the park after the racers set off, so I spread out a newspaper and began making things with the white clay I dig east of Columbia.

I was working on a small clay figure, one of a series of long-ago people attempting artificial respiration. I started this in the 1970s to enlighten my first-aid and lifesaving lessons about artificial respiration related to drowning.

A woman came to the table where I was working.

"What are you making?" she asked. I began to talk about the many ways people had tried to revive people dragged out of ponds, canals and other water holes - not breathing.

Excitedly, she interrupted, "Oh, you must make the one that saved my husband’s father’s life 70 years ago." She told of a boy drowned in a canal in Ireland; rescuers were unable to get him breathing again. A man threw the body over his shoulder and ran to the boy’s home.

That bouncing ride started his breathing! Actually, the man’s shoulder in the boy’s abdomen was giving a sort of crude Heimlich maneuver all the way. That happened in Ireland a long time ago and the "drowned boy" lived 92 years.

Historically, well-meaning bystanders have tried rolling a not-breathing person over a barrel, tossing him belly-down over a trotting horse, thrashing the victim with briars, hanging him by his feet to drain the water out and other techniques of doubtful value. Fascinated by these historical revival techniques, I began to represent them in small clay figures; my daughter, Nancy Russell, painted them.

There are 40 of these little figures, which, incidentally, spent six months on display in a Wisconsin Historical Medical Museum. Color photos of five of these "little people" were published with my article in the American Medical News several years ago.

Henry Heimlich read it and sent me background material on the development of the Heimlich maneuver and charts to be posted in public eating places, school lunch rooms, swimming pools, etc. People "snapped up" the maneuver for choking, but Heimlich intended it to be used for both drowning and choking.

He sent information and drawings of Heimlich maneuvers being done with two fingers on an infant, using the technique on victims who are too heavy to lift, victims on beaches and in boats and people doing the Heimlich on themselves, when necessary. Here was this famous, retired thoracic surgeon - and I was writing to him as if he were my uncle. He’s calling me Sue and I’m calling him Hank; we’re both interested in reviving people who have stopped breathing.

Hank Heimlich came to the farm one day to see these little figures and to talk artificial respiration for almost two hours. I greeted him at his car and, as we started to the house, he stopped in the drizzling rain, looked all around and said, "What a wonderful place to live. I didn’t know there was a place like this left in the whole country."

We didn’t stop talking long enough that day to have the chilled grape juice I’d prepared - or even to offer him a chair!

On May 3, 2003, The Heimlich Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio, presented its lifetime "Save-a-Life" award: "Whereas, Sue Gerard has instructed more than 2,000 Red Cross Senior Life Savers and was one of the first people to be aware that the Heimlich Maneuver removes water from lungs thus enabling drowning victims to breathe normally. Henry Heimlich, M.D., ScD., President, The Heimlich Institute."

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