Harrison Weidman, left, and Dominic Ramos are interviewed by a local television reporter Friday at Griffin Creek Elementary School. Dominic’s life-saving Heimlich maneuver on his buddy Harrison has garnered lots of attention, including from CBS Evening News and Heimlich’s son. - Jim Craven

Heimlich hero goes national

When a local fourth-grade student dislodged a wedged corn chip from a classmate's throat via the timely application of the Heimlich maneuver earlier this week, the feel-good story rippled across the nation.

Dominic Ramos found his best buddy, Harrison Weidman, red-faced and choking on nachos during lunch period Tuesday at Griffin Creek Elementary School. There was no time to get an adult, so Dominic gave Harrison the life-saving squeezes and "the chip flew out," he said.

The story appeared on the front page of the Mail Tribune Wednesday. Within hours, it was picked up by news producers in New York. The 9-year-old's heroism will be featured in Steve Hartman's "Assignment America" series during the CBS Evening News featuring Katie Couric on Oct. 26, said Victoria Thompson, a CBS associate producer.

Medford resident Dr. Bill Johnson also caught the boys' story. Retired after almost 40 years of practicing medicine in California, Johnson, 81, called the Mail Tribune to recount his own vivid memories of Heimlich rescues. The squeezes Dominic used to save Harrison have saved many lives — including those of his fellow physicians, he said.

During one long-ago Rotary Club barbecue, where "a lot of steaks and probably too much booze" had been served, Johnson witnessed a surgeon helping a choking enterologist.

"(The surgeon) gave a couple good squeezes and that piece of meat was just ejected," he said. "The enterologist coughed a couple times and went right back to eating."

Johnson also knows people who did not survive. A fellow pediatrician was found dead, at age 42, after choking on a sandwich, he said. Another victim was thought to have died of a heart attack until a "string of raw meat" was pulled from her throat, Johnson said.

On Wednesday, Peter Heimlich, a vocal critic of his famous physician father, Henry J. Heimlich, sent the Mail Tribune a confidential e-mail from Atlanta. Peter Heimlich did not return calls for comment. But he states on his Web site ( that the lifesaving maneuver no longer carries his father's name — and that it is no longer recommended as the first response for choking per new guidelines from the American Red Cross.

Back slaps had been the primary treatment used on choking victims before the use of the thrusting technique.

After more than two decades of recommending only the Heimlich-promoted abdominal thrusts, the Red Cross in December 2005 began recommending an initial series of five back slaps.

Back slaps were abandoned because they were reported to cause choking. But newer studies suggested choking victims may not have enough air left in their lungs to expel wedged food solely through compressing the diaphragm. Back blows create vibration, and their force can help dislodge food from a victim's airway, health officials said.

The thrusting technique can be used to good effect on conscious choking victims. But chest thrusts, rather than abdominal thrusts, are recommended for pregnant women or the severely obese, they said.

Asked about recent claims the maneuver can cause injury if used too vigorously or inappropriately on certain victims, Johnson said suffering injuries is preferable to the alternative.

"Who cares?" said Johnson. "That's better than dying. I've had cracked ribs from CPR. I know damned well that I would do it. You want an air jet to pop that thing out of there."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail

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