The son of the founder of the Heimlich maneuver has questioned the effectiveness and safety of the Dechoker device currently available at a local school district and other public locations in the area.
But Peter Heimlich, son of Dr. Henry Heimlich, who in 1974 was credited with developing the abdominal thrust meant to clear a person’s airway from an object causing choking, questions the Dechoker’s effectiveness and safety, stating it hasn’t been tested.
In October, Tim Hite, a firefighter and EMS provider, introduced the Dechoker device to the Allegany-Limestone Central School District to help individuals choking on food or other materials. The item, which comes in different sizes and is registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is designed to suction objects from the airways of toddlers, children and adults.
Middle-High School Principal Cory Pecorella said the school district purchased two packages of the suction devices for each of the campuses. Each package contains Dechokers in adult, youth and toddler sizes.
In addition to the school district, the devices are now in at least one restaurant in the area and at the Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Office. The Dechoker kit includes a respirator face mask that fits over the mouth of the choking individual. While one hand holds the face mask in place, the other pulls the plunger upward, pushes it back down and pulls it up again to suction the object out. The steps can be repeated until the object is aspirated from the individual.
The devices are meant to replace the abdominal thrust — Heimlich maneuver.
“Why the school district and the sheriff's office thought this was a good idea is a mystery,” Heimlich said in an email to the Times Herald. “There are no research studies published in peer-reviewed medical journals testing the device's effectiveness and safety — let alone on children — and it isn't recommended by any first aid organizations.”
Heimlich said that one doesn’t “have to be an expert to realize that using an unproven, unapproved medical device in what may be a life or death emergency raises serious questions. For example, were parents of students given the opportunity to provide informed consent for the use of the device on their kids? Was a risk manager consulted to evaluate potential liability concerns?”
As for the abdominal thrusts, Heimlich said that procedure has been the topic of a “spirited debate” in the medical community about how best to respond to a choking emergency.
“For example, some experts have suggested that chest thrusts are safer and more effective than the Heimlich maneuver,” he said. “In fact, first aid authorities in Australia and New Zealand recommend chest thrusts, not ‘the Heimlich.’ Are they ahead of the curve? I don't know, but that's one of the beauties of science — it keeps evolving.”
For his part, Hite said he is arranging a phone conversation between Allegany-Limestone Superintendent Tony Giannicchi and his supervisor with the Dechoker company to answer questions the school district may have regarding the item. Giannicchi couldn’t be reached for comment on the matter.
The product was created approximately three years ago by Alan Carver of Colorado and is manufactured in Concord, N.C.
“Here’s the thing, the FDA doesn’t have to approve anything,” Hite continued. “The FDA just requests that you register (a device) so they can monitor it. If it’s an invasive procedure, which this is not, the FDA has to approve it.
“Because this is non-invasive and considered a suction device, then it doesn’t have to be approved by the FDA,” Hite added. “If it did, the FDA would be very busy, and all the stuff on the ambulances we use to clear airways would have to be approved, and they’re not.”
Hite further claimed that the Dechoker company has more than 20 confirmed reports from across the United States and the United Kingdom that “this device has saved somebody’s life in the moment when the abdominal thrust didn’t work.”
But the Dechoker and similar devices have also been questioned regarding their effectiveness and, echoing Heimlich’s concerns, that they have not been adequately tested.
The Dechoker devices are $79 per unit and a kit of three is $239. After a device is used once, it should be replaced because of the possibility of bacterial contamination.
Hite said Heimlich’s “whole idea ... is to place doubt in people’s minds, which is not helping save lives.”
Instructions and information for the Dechoker are available through the MDamerica national training partner for the product and can be found on the company’s website www.dechoker.com.
Heimlich said a link on his website, which provides more information on the issue, can be found at http://medfraud.info/2006ChokingUpdateArticles.html.
(Contact reporter Kate Day Sager at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @OTHKate)