The quick and hard upward thrust of a balled up fist against the torso of a person desperately gasping for air can be the difference between life and death. The lifesaving maneuver, dubbed the Heimlich, impassioned one choking survivor, Doug Newberry, to establish a website — HeimlichHeroes.com — in honor of Dr. Henry Jay Heimlich, the creator of the technique.
As Dr. Heimlich’s 91st birthday approaches, Newberry said he wanted to create the site as an outlet for choking victims to share their stories and praise their heroes.
"It happened to me about 20 years ago," said Newberry, who lives in Cincinnati. "If I hadn’t been saved, I would have choked to death and wouldn’t be around. This situation is similar to many other people. And Dr. Heimlich is getting up in years and I thought this was a way to carry on his legacy."
The site is still not complete, but it does allow visitors to send a birthday card Thursday to Heimlich and to submit their stories.
The Conklin, Hubert and D’Agostino families are just a few of the North Jersey people who owe thanks to Heimlich.
"Oh my gosh, I seriously thought I was going to die," says Meghan Hubert, 18, of Wyckoff, recalling her choking experience five years ago.
Hubert remembers popping a chocolate candy ball into her mouth as she waited for her mom to pick her up from the front of Eisenhower Middle School. As she began laughing at a joke, the candy got lodged in her throat. Choking and gasping for air, one of Hubert’s friends attempted to give her the Heimlich maneuver, but was unsuccessful. Jack Conklin, who was 12 years old, stepped in immediately and took two good thrusts before the candy flew out of her mouth.
"I learned it from the movie ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’," Conklin says. "I saw Robin Williams doing the Heimlich and it was just a natural reaction after watching the movie."
After the close call, the two friends and families became very close and see each other most weekends. Conklin was also honored by the Bergen-Hudson Chapter of the American Red Cross.
"I think it was a life changing moment and I am so grateful to be alive," Hubert says. "Something like that can happen to anyone. I appreciate my life so much more and live every day to the fullest."
The incident also impacted Conklin, a junior at Indian Hills High School. He wants to become a doctor or be involved in sports medicine, adding that he will write about the experience in his college application essay.
Just days before last Thanksgiving, the D’Agostino family had a similar scare inside their Jordan Road home in Emerson. Laura was sitting on the couch enjoying a bagel, when she took a bite.
"It felt like it got stuck in the middle of my throat," Laura recalls. "I couldn’t breath. I ran upstairs and I was barely able to say ‘I am choking! Something’s stuck!’ "
Laura’s husband began patting her on the back to try and dislodge the bagel, but it wasn’t working. "I was very scared," Laura says. "All I kept thinking about was my son. I was thinking this was going to be it."
Hearing the commotion, Laura’s 16-year-old niece, Jennifer Allen, ran out of her bedroom and immediately jumped into action when she saw Laura’s face turning purplish-blue. She did the Heimlich five or six times before the bagel came out.
Jennifer, a Westwood Regional High School junior, says she never actually learned the Heimlich, but does volunteer at Valley Hospital in Ridgewood in the birthing center and knew that you have to push right above the belly button.
"A little part of me was scared," Laura says. "I definitely just reacted because I love my aunt. I felt really brave."
Since the scare, the family has much to be thankful for and Laura says she is very careful when eating bagels and takes smaller bites in general.
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