If you haven’t heard of LifeVac, you should. It is an amazingly simple device that can remove an object from a blocked airway and save a person from choking to death. It was invented by Arthur Lih, a Massapequa resident who was affected by the grief of a woman who had lost her child to choking. “I was visiting my friend in the hospital and we overheard a mother whose child had just choked to death on a grape and the Heimlich Maneuver couldn’t save him” said Lih. “ I immediately thought of my own daughter Jackie, who was seven at the time, and I was overcome with emotion. I thought about that family often. Then Jackie and I started tinkering in the garage” Lih continued.
That was in 2011. Fast forward seven years and Mr. Lih has navigated LifeVac through prototypes, medical conference presentations and in March 2016, a study showing the effectiveness of LifeVac in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine. Along the way he has faced obstacles that might have discouraged someone less passionate. “The biggest roadblock was that, to a certain point, LifeVac was just a theory,” said Lih. “We had solid physics, and since you cannot mimic choking in a laboratory, we even tested LifeVac on fresh cadavers. It worked every time”. Still, his attempts to get LifeVac in schools, restaurants and emergency vehicles were met with typical red tape.
Then, in June 2016 Mr. Lih learned that LifeVac had registered its first rescue in a nursing home in a small town in Wales. “I knew that if we put enough LifeVac’s on the street we would eventually have a situation where it would save someone. So, we started sending units to schools, hospitals and nursing homes who had recently experienced a choking death” Lih continued. “This home had a patient die a few months before. We sent them a unit; a patient started choking and they went through normal protocol but were not successful. They used the LifeVac and cleared the blocked airway on the second pull, saving the person’s life. The nurse who performed the rescue is named Jackie. I see that as a sign to continue this quest and create more awareness about LifeVac”.
Since that day LifeVac has confirmed ten more saves yet still experiences obstacles. “It’s the same story everywhere we go. ‘It’s a great tool, we need it in our schools’, but no one will make the decision” said Mr. Lih. “We have gained some ground with some local fire departments and are working towards an agreement with a local police department, but the main target is schools. Children are the most vulnerable and the general environment of a school cafeteria is a high choking risk area. We will keep working until a LifeVac is as standard as fire extinguisher”.
Last year the Town of Babylon purchased approx. 30 LifeVac’s and has them placed in their parks facilities/senior centers. “Doing everything possible to help our residents and visitors in a choking situation is the reason we purchased the LifeVac,” said Tony Martinez, Town of Babylon Deputy Supervisor”.
The latest information states that choking is the 3rd leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Over 4,000 people die every year from choking.
Published 4/2018 – South Shore Living