After nearly two years of having his product on the market, Arthur Lih of Massapequa began to have doubts about the practicality of LifeVac, the anti-choking device he invented and patented, until it saved its first life recently.
After a resident of the Allt-y-Mynydd Care Home in Dyfed, Wales choked to death in Jauary, the institution made the decision to purchase a LifeVac. Just two days after receiving the product, an elderly female resident of the home was choking on her lunch, but a nurse on site was able to dislodge the object and clear the victim’s airway using the LifeVac.
Lih was not only proud of the life-saving capabilities of his product, but also mystified by the fact that the nurse at hand was named Jackie, also the name of his daughter who served as the inspiration behind the creation of the device. To him, this was the sign he needed to keep him moving forward with confidence.
In 2011, while in a hospital visiting a friend, Lih was devastated to learn that just a few days prior, a 7-year-old boy had died after choking on a grape when the Heimlich maneuver failed to save him. The uncontrollable cries of the boy’s mother prompted Lih to think of his daughter, also seven at the time, inspiring him to find a way to prevent such a tragedy.
“That sound of crying just broke me up. That night I went home to my garage and started working,” said Lih. After experimenting with different household parts and products such as a plunger, he realized the concept could be quite simple. Lih had just a few requirements for the product: that it be affordable, easy to use, durable and long-lasting.
After about two years of designing, creating, and testing the LifeVac, it was ready for distribution. The first customer, a woman from Sarasota, FL, heard word about the device while Lih was discussing it on Sirius Radio. The woman was concerned about her mother, who had multiple sclerosis, and felt that owning a LifeVac would give her greater peace of mind. At the time, he had only two prototypes, but was more than willing to give her one.
“This needs to be in schools, special needs schools, and elder care homes,” said Lih. He argues that the device is an absolute necessity, especially for those who are disabled or struggling with any muscle malfunction disorders such as autism, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy.
While there are many purchases by parents and individuals, the LifeVac’s primary buyers tend to be police departments, fire departments, and school districts. Currently, LifeVacs can be found in the fire departments of Brentwood, Great River, Freeport, Seaford, and Jericho, in the Bergen County Police Department and in the Lindenhurst School District.
The LifeVac is not intended to replace the Heimlich maneuver altogether, however it does pose as a reliable alternative. According to the New York State Department of health “at least one child dies from choking on food every five days in the U.S., and more than 10,000 children are taken to a hospital emergency room each year for food-choking injuries.” Choking is the leading cause of accidental deaths among children ages 14 and under, yet the Heimlich only works roughly 70-86 percent of the time according to a report by the American Heart Association.
“I don’t want to rely on something that might work when my daughters life is at stake. Would you put your child in a car that works 70 percent of the time?” asked Lih.
The benefit of using a LifeVac in a situation where someone’s airway has been blocked is that it does not rely on compression of one’s diaphragm to dislodge an object, which has often resulted in injury to the ribs or internal organs. In a case where a person is not able to receive the Heimlich maneuver, such as during pregnancy, the LifeVac could be a simple solution. Instead of performing abdominal thrusts, as the Heimlich maneuver entails, the LifeVac creates a suction force. Appearing much like a plunger attached to a mask, the product is designed to form an air-tight seal with one’s mouth area, which creates one-way suction when pushed downward and then pulled away from the victim.
“It’s simple physics,” commented Lih, adding that the Seaford, Jericho, East Williston, Great River, Freeport and Brentwood fire departments are now equipped with LifeVac.
Since its inception, the LifeVac has received much recognition and critical acclaim. In July 2013, the LifeVac was selected for poster presentation at the 80th annual American College of Gastroenterology Conference, attended by more than 4,000 gastroenterologists, physicians and healthcare professionals from across the nation. In March 2016, The American Journal of Emergency Medicine published a study showing the effectiveness of LifeVac in removing an obstruction from a blocked airway.
As for the future, Lih has just one wish: to see his product in more schools, police and fire departments, nursing homes and public institutions where choking is a possibility.