Parents and the Heimlich Maneuver

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
May 8, 2008 5:19:19 PM PDT
Hundreds of kids die every year from choking. But knowing one simple technique can save lives.Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg.

It's hard to keep your eye on your kids' every movement, and they can be lightning-quick at getting into trouble. It's very easy for them to swallow unchewed pieces of food or pop dangerous items into their mouths. So it's critical that parents know the Heimlich Maneuver to prevent tragedies from happening.

Michele Pipia-Stiles does public relations for St. Luke's Hospital, but it was a story about her 5-year-old son Jake that made news a couple weeks ago. It all started when Jake put a ring-lollipop into his mouth just before bedtime.

"Shortly after he opened it, he was choking," she said. "And he couldn't talk and began pointing to his neck."

A piece of the lollipop was blocking Jake's windpipe. But Michele knew the Heimlich Maneuver and used it immediately.

"I immediately got behind him and put my hands just above his navel," she said. "And I pushed in and up."

After one more such sequence, success.

"It came out," little Jake said.

The maneuver is done the same the same way for kids as for adults.

Bringing a choking child to the ER is not the right thing to do, as it will probably be too late to save his or her life. So it is important that parents learn how to do the Heimlich Maneuver on kids of any age.

For infants, put the baby facedown on your forearm, supporting the chin with your palm. Then use the heel of your other hand to give five back slaps between the shoulder blades. If the object is still stuck, turn the baby over, face up, on your thigh and use two or three fingers to give five thrusts on the breastbone, just below the nipple line.

Emergency medicine specialist Dr. Gabriel Wilson says the best advice is to know how to avoid the problem.

"There are a group of foods to avoid in kids under 5, because these foods very easily block the airway," he said. "Grapes, sausages, hot dogs, anything that's sort of smooth, round and the perfect size to block the airway."

Dr. Wilson says the highest rate of chokings are in kids under age 5, because they don't have their molar teeth yet to chew food well and end up trying to swallow large pieces.

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