Heimlich Maneuver Day

June 1st is Heimlich Maneuver Day. In 1974, the journal Emergency Medicine published Dr. Henry Heimlich’s invention of a method to combat choking that has saved countless lives.

heimlich maneuver day 1

At the time, a series of blows to the back was the treatment of choice. Thoracic surgeon Heimlich set out to find a better way. He realized that when choking, air is trapped in the lungs. When the diaphragm is elevated, the air is compressed and forced out along with the obstruction.

He anesthetized a beagle to the verge of unconsciousness, plugged its throat with a tube, then conducted experiments to find an easy way to get the dog to expel it. After succeeding, he reproduced the result with three other beagles.

Refined for use on humans, his technique entails standing behind the choking person, making a fist below the sternum but above the belly button and pulling it in and up to dislodge the blockage.

heimlich maneuver day

In 1976, the Heimlich maneuver became a secondary procedure to be used only if back blows were unsuccessful. In 1986, the American Heart Association (AHA) changed its guidelines, instituting the Heimlich maneuver as the only option for rescuers.

Although Heimlich is also a fierce proponent of using the procedure to rescue drowning victims, the AHA warns it can lead to vomiting, aspiration pneumonia and death.

But his most controversial theory is “malariatherapy,” the practice of infecting a patient with malaria to treat another ailment. Although he had no expertise in oncology, Heimlich was convinced it could treat cancer.

In 1987, after the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) refused to supply him with infected blood, he went to Mexico City and convinced the Mexican National Cancer Institute (MNCI) to allow him to treat five patients with malariatherapy. Four of the patients died within a year. The project was abandoned with no follow-up studies.

In 1990, The New England Journal of Medicine published Heimlich’s letter proposing malariatherapy as a Lyme disease treatment. Before long, sufferers around the world began to ask for the treatment. But lack of supporting evidence and poor patient reviews spelled the end of the exercise.

Within a few years, he decided it could tackle AIDS. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), labeled the idea “quite dangerous and scientifically unsound.” But Heimlich was able to secure financing from Hollywood donors and set up a clinic in China.

In 1994, his Heimlich Institute paid four Chinese doctors between $5,000 and $10,000 per patient to inject at least eight HIV patients with malarial blood. At the 1996 International Conference on AIDS, he announced that in two Chinese patients, CD4 counts that decrease as HIV progresses to AIDS, had increased after malariatherapy and remained elevated two years later.

When experts reviewed the studies, they discovered that the test the Chinese doctors used to measure CD4 levels was notoriously unreliable, rendering the results useless. Heimlich pressed on but had a difficult time finding sponsors.

In 2005, Heimlich determined a re-branding was in order; reasoning that the word “malaria” might scare people off, he changed the name to immunotherapy. When speaking to a journalist, he refused to disclose the exact location of his latest clinical trial in Africa. Due to its ethically dubious practice of initially denying treatment for malaria, the study has been conducted without governmental permission.

The same year, the AHA did a little de-branding: its guidelines no longer refer to the Heimlich maneuver by name. It is now simply called an “abdominal thrust.” Since 2001, an anonymous campaign has sought to label Heimlich a fraud and expose alleged human rights abuses in connection with his experimentation on unwilling participants. Heimlich’s accuser was his son Peter.

On Monday, May 23, 2016, the 96-year-old performed his maneuver on 80-year-old Patty Ris, a fellow resident at Deupree House, a senior living community in Cincinnati, Ohio. He told a reporter it was the first time he’d used his invention to save a life. (In 2003, he told BBC Online News that he’d saved someone at a restaurant three years earlier.) Heimlich died on December 17, 2016, after suffering a heart attack.

While Dr. Henry Heimlich may have been a complicated individual, there’s no denying that he created a life-saving procedure. He didn’t do it alone, according to Dr. Edward Patrick, an emergency room physician who said he helped develop it before Heimlich took sole credit and slapped his name on it. Even Peter doesn’t believe Patrick’s story, but we have to admit it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s false.

Happy Heimlich Maneuver Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays


May 11 is National Root Canal Appreciation Day

national root canal appreciation dayToday is National Root Canal Appreciation Day, created in 2005 by Wisconsin dentist Chris Kammer.

Dr. Kammer became known as “America’s Favorite Rock’n’Roll Dentist” in July 2004 when he performed original rap song “Get Out the Brush” at Madison Mallards collegiate league ballpark, inspiring 5,991 baseball fans to brush their teeth simultaneously.

Sadly, that number was surpassed the following year by 13,380 people at a Colgate-sponsored event at San Salvador’s Cuscatlán Stadium in El Salvador. It remains the Guinness World Record holder, at least until claims that Delhi Public School Bangalore South in India shattered it with 17,505 this January can be verified.

In April 2005, Dr. Kammer announced he would inaugurate Root Canal Appreciation Day on May 11th by returning to the ballpark and performing a root canal on home plate. He encouraged other dentists to perform root canals in public places. Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle and Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz issued proclamations recognizing the holiday.

We can find no confirmation that he did the procedure; it seems like the kind of publicity stunt that would have a gotten a little, you know, publicity. We found a recent podcast in which he discusses a dental hygiene program that he calls “Gums of Steel.”

We also came across Dr. Kammer’s 2011 audition for American Idol. You didn’t think we’d make you go to bed tonight wondering what “Get Out the Brush” sounds like, did you? It’s mercifully short and every bit as entertaining watched with the sound off. Either way, it will quickly become obvious why: a) he should keep his day job, and b) we don’t want his hands in our mouths.

Happy National Root Canal Appreciation Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

May 2 is International Scurvy Awareness Day

Today is International Scurvy Awareness Day. Its founders admit it is an exceptionally weird holiday and say they would like nothing more than to render it obsolete. As they point out on, although the cure for scurvy has been known for centuries, hundreds are diagnosed with it each year in the U.S. and around the world.

international scurvy awareness day

A single hospital, Bayside Medical Center in Springfield, MA, reported that from 2009 through 2014, thirty patients were examined for a variety of mysterious symptoms eventually identified as scurvy. Some doctors refer to it as a “million-dollar diagnosis” because it takes so many modern tests to find a disease considered non-existent in developed nations.

The folks at LimeStrong believe people are more likely to learn about scurvy’s effects—such as bleeding gums, tooth loss, and muscle weakness—if the facts are accompanied by a bit of humor and cats wearing fruit helmets. Scurvy can be prevented by eating a couple of servings of citrus fruits and vegetables, such as bell peppers and broccoli, per week.

international scurvy awareness day

Mr. Boots

Mr. Boots says, “Have a happy International Scurvy Awareness Day!” Who could say no to this face?

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

February 2 is Sled Dog Day

Today is Sled Dog Day which recognizes the heroism of 20 men and 150 dogs who raced to save the town of Nome, Alaska from an epidemic. In January of 1925, children began to fall ill, gasping for breath. At least four died. Diphtheria is a highly contagious respiratory disease, often lethal without treatment. It’s curable, but the nearest supply of antitoxin serum was in Anchorage, 1,000 miles away.

On January 25th the town’s only doctor, Dr. Welch, arranged for the serum to be transported by train to Nenana, the end of the line, still almost 700 miles away. Experienced dogsledders, called mushers, decided to run their teams in relays to deliver the 20-pound batch of serum, wrapped in fur, to Nome.sled dog day

The serum arrived in Nenana on the evening of January 27th. Musher “Wild Bill” Shannon tied the package to his sled and set off on the first 52-mile leg of a 674-mile journey that became known as the “Great Race of Mercy.” Wind chill reached -60° Fahrenheit.

The teams averaged six miles per hour and covered about 30 miles of ground apiece, but when Leonhard Seppala, a famous musher at the time, received the serum on January 31st in Shaktoolik, he covered 91 miles with lead dog Togo. He then handed it off to Charlie Olson, who traveled 25 miles before giving it to Gunnar Kaasen for what was supposed to be the second-to-last leg of the relay.

sled dog day

Kaasen and Balto

Kaasen ran straight into a blizzard, the snow sometimes so intense it caused a white-out in which he couldn’t see any of his 13-dog team. He trusted his lead dog, Balto, who relied on scent to guide them. At one point the sled flipped, pitching the serum into a snowbank and sending Kaasen scrambling to find it.

He arrived in Port Safety in the early morning hours of February 2nd, but when the next team was not ready to leave, he pressed on to Nome himself. At 5:30 AM, Balto led the way into Nome to deliver the serum, frozen solid, to Dr. Welch. The doctor thawed the antitoxin, then injected the townspeople. Three weeks later, he lifted the quarantine.

sled dog day

Balto and team in Nome after delivering vaccine

The relay had taken five-and-a-half days, cutting the previous record by almost half. Many mushers had suffered frostbite and four of the dogs died from exposure.

The story got international attention and Balto became a superstar. Within weeks, he was contracted to star in a short Hollywood film entitled Balto’s Race to Nome. After traveling to Seattle, Washington and shooting on Mt. Rainier, Kaasen, his wife, Balto and the rest of the team embarked on a nine-month vaudeville tour of the country. They arrived in December of 1925 to witness the unveiling of a bronze likeness of Balto in New York City’s Central Park.

Statue of Balto in New York's Central Park (Credit: Getty Images)

The statue is located on the main path leading north from the Tisch Children’s Zoo. In front of it, a slate plaque depicts Balto’s sled team, and bears the following inscription:

Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed antitoxin six hundred miles
over rough ice, across treacherous waters, through Arctic blizzards from Nenana
to the relief of stricken Nome in the Winter of 1925.

Endurance · Fidelity · Intelligence

Although Seppala also toured the country and appeared with Togo in an advertising campaign for Lucky Strike cigarettes, he felt cheated by the attention lavished on Kaasen and Balto. He had raised Balto and considered him genetically inferior, with a boxy build; he’d neutered him as a puppy to ensure his line would not continue.

sled dog day

Seppala and Togo

A quote from biography Seppala: Alaskan Dog Driver reads, “The chief thing which disturbed me was that Togo’s records were given to Balto, a scrub dog who was pushed into the limelight and made immortal. It was almost more than I could bear when the ‘newspaper’ dog Balto received a statue for his ‘glorious achievements.'”

The timing and circumstances surrounding what happened next is unclear. Both men worked for Pioneer Mining and Ditch Company near Nome. Kaasen was recalled by the company, most likely at his superior Seppala’s behest. Some accounts say Seppala’s friend, mountaineer Roald Amundsen confronted Kaasen in Chicago, Illinois, a stop on the vaudeville tour he’d been forced to resume due to financial difficulties, and told him to return home immediately. With Kaasen in Alaska, there would be nothing to divert attention from a ceremony Seppala had planned in which Amundsen would award a gold medal to Togo.

No matter how it came to pass, Kaasen found himself financially unable to secure passage for the dogs and with no time to raise funds. He had no choice but to leave them with the tour’s promoter, who had no use for 13 dogs and sold them at a stop in Los Angeles, California to a “museum” where they were tied up in a small dark room, neglected and sometimes abused. For a dime, people could peek in the room’s one small window and see the hero dogs that had saved a town.

This went on for several months until businessman George Kimble, visiting from Cleveland, Ohio, saw an advertisement for the attraction and went to have a look. Incensed at their deplorable condition, fearing that they would soon pine away and die, he approached the owner who offered to sell them to him for $2,000.

Mr. Kimble worked together with a Cleveland newspaper, The Plain Dealer, to get the word out. Children and adults all over the country donated and in only ten days, Kimble was able to rescue the dogs and bring them to Cleveland. (At this point, only seven dogs remained. It’s unknown what happened to the other six.) On March 19, 1927, Balto and his teammates received a hero’s welcome in a triumphant parade. The dogs were then taken to the Brookside Zoo and lived the rest of their lives in comfort.

After Balto died in 1933, his remains were mounted by a taxidermist and donated to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. In 1998, the Alaska legislature passed HJR 62- the ‘Bring Back Balto’ resolution. The museum refused to return Balto but in October of that year, they loaned him for five months to the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, which drew record crowds.

sled dog day

Sunlight has faded Balto’s coat from black to brown.

After Togo’s death in 1929, Seppala had him custom mounted and displayed at Yale University’s Peabody Museum of Natural History. (His skeleton is still there.) In 1964, the stuffed dog was transferred to a museum in Vermont.

During all the years he was displayed, Togo was not enclosed. His coat had begun to bald where he was petted. His significance forgotten, Togo was put into storage in 1979. A carpenter who happened to have a background in racing sled dogs discovered him in 1983 atop an old refrigerator.

The sled run of 1925 became international news again. The museum was pressured by legislators, dog clubs, and museums to do something, whether it was to try to repair the taxidermy, bury him where he had died or, as a letter-writing campaign begun by Alaskan schoolchildren urged, return him to the place of his greatest triumph. sled dog day

Today he is on display in a glass case at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters Museum in Wasilla, Alaska.

Raise a glass to Balto and Togo and all the dogs that save lives or just make our lives better. Hear, hear and have a happy Sled Dog Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays