Want to be a Heimlich hero? All ages can learn how to save a life

Three siblings sit in their kitchen enjoying a bedtime snack of sliced oranges. One of them accidently takes too big a bite and suddenly his face is red and he can’t breathe. A routine activity has turned into a choking emergency. Without a second thought, an older sibling wraps his arms around his brother and performs the Heimlich maneuver. The orange slice is dislodged. Oxygen is restored. They all can sleep soundly.

“It happened too fast for me to be nervous,” Louis Fritz of Walton, Kentucky, says of his heroic act.

Thankfully, Fritz was able to recognize the signs of choking and perform the Heimlich maneuver with confidence – saving his younger brother’s life.

Choking is the fifth leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Over the years, the Heimlich maneuver has saved an estimated 50,000 U.S. lives, and thousands more worldwide. Although most people don’t consider themselves heroic, one organization is passionately working to teach people that anyone can be a Heimlich hero.

A Deaconess Associations, Inc. initiative, Heimlich Heroes is a free interactive program designed for children ages seven and up. By the end of their basic one hour training, students are taught how to recognize the signs of choking, minimize or eliminate the risk of choking and properly perform the Heimlich maneuver.

It’s impactful

Over 4,000 people across 22 states have been trained or have registered with Heimlich Heroes for training free of charge.

“Our goal is to train as many young people as possible,” says Terri Huntington, program manager, “Children are curious and excited that they have the potential to save a life.”

It’s interactive

The Heimlich Heroes training kit includes an instructional video, learning materials for students based on their ages and the Heidi or Hank training doll. These 42-inch dolls feature an internal diaphragm, lungs and a windpipe. The dolls’ plastic mouths expel a peanut-sized foam cushion when the maneuver is performed correctly.

Practicing the maneuver on a doll helps children learn the approximate amount of pressure they need to exert and it builds confidence in performing it. When faced with a choking emergency, trained children are then ready to spring into action and save a life.

“The kids are so much more conscious about choking hazards and took the training a lot more seriously than I even expected them to,” Jessie S., a school nurse who administered the training in Texas. “It was so easy to put together and we had no problems at all. We really look forward to doing it again next year.”

Although the basic training session only lasts an hour, extended lessons that align with the Common Core curriculum are available for school use.

It’s important

Fritz learned about the Heimlich maneuver from reading a hospital poster a few years prior. Other children are learning about it from parents and guardians, movies (like Mrs. Doubtfire) and Scouting organizations.

“I had never actually practiced the Heimlich maneuver before I had to use it on my brother,” reflects Fritz, “I think it’s important for all kids to be trained because you never know when you might need to save someone from choking.”

Heimlich Heroes is specifically designed to help children, teachers, sitters, parents and other youth leaders become equipped to handle a choking emergency and prevent needless deaths. “Training is simple, free and easily accessible. Investing even just 45 minutes can mean the difference between life and death,” explains Huntington, “Anyone can be a Heimlich Hero.”

To access free training materials and learn how to bring Heimlich Heroes to your school or organization, visit www.heimlichheroes.com/anyone.

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