More than 25 years ago, they were called "cafe coronaries" -- the deaths that occurred when diners suddenly choked on the food they were eating, and with their airways blocked, they died, frequently from heart attacks.
The old accepted method of slapping the choker on the back just didn't work.
All that changed in 1974, when a Cincinnati physician and surgeon published his research on a new lifesaving technique. The "maneuver" Dr. Henry Heimlich developed has subsequently saved thousands of lives, as one area woman learned first hand on a recent Sunday afternoon.
The Heimlich maneuver is so remarkably simple that it's part of every first aid course -- although most who learn how to do it never think they'll ever use the skill.
Life-saver: But Heather McMillin, a waitress at the Applebee's Restaurant in Niles, discovered that some things you learn in high school come in handy. When an older restaurant customer started to choke, McMillin didn't hesitate to use the Heimlich maneuver, which ambulance personnel say probably saved the woman's life.
McMillin's actions not only warrant the praise she has received, but should serve as a reminder that getting involved to help another is a highly moral decision. And learning the skills that could help save a stranger or even a member of one's own family is a moral choice, too.
According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, almost 4,000 people -- two-thirds of whom are children -- die from accidental choking each year in this country. These accidents are usually attributed to food, liquid, balloons, marbles, or other foreign objects that lodge in the airway and result in suffocation. Most of their lives could have been saved if those near them had learned what McMillin did and like her took immediate action.
Congratulations to McMillin and to Mathews High School where she learned her first aid.