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Story highlights

Dr. Henry Heimlich was in the dining hall of a senior community when the woman beside him began choking on her hamburger

He came up with the Heimlich maneuver in 1974

(CNN) —  

Dr. Henry Heimlich reached his arms around the gagging woman’s body and did what he does best: grasped his left fist in his right hand and thrusted quickly and upward.

It was 1974 when he created the lifesaving maneuver and the American Medical Association gave it his name. On Monday – at age 96 – he got to use his own maneuver on someone who was choking.

Heimlich was eating a steak in the dining room of the Deupree House, a senior living community in Cincinnati, Ohio, when he noticed the woman next to him start to choke.

“She had all the signs of it because, as I say, her lips were puffed out, and she obviously wasn’t breathing,” Heimlich said.

So, he sprang into action.

As more than 100 other diners looked on, Heimlich said he stood up, spun the victim around and launched into his namesake technique.

Henry Heimlich demonstrates the  maneuver on Johnny Carson in 1979.
Gene Arias/NBC/Getty Images
Henry Heimlich demonstrates the maneuver on Johnny Carson in 1979.

He placed his arms around her waist, fist below the ribcage – just above the belly button. Then, Heimlich pressed three times, and Patty Gill Ris, 87, coughed out a piece of her hamburger.

Ris had just moved to the community in March and was dining next to Heimlich for the first time.

“Oh gosh am I lucky that I sat there. And God put me right there at that table right next to Dr. Heimlich,” she said.

“Thank this wonderful man for saving my life,” she said.

Heimlich demonstrated his maneuver many times throughout his career as a chest surgeon, but he had never before used it in a matter of life and death.

The Heimlich maneuver has been adopted over the world as the standard response to a choking victim. It’s saved more than 50,000 lives in the United States alone, according to Heimlich’s educational institute.

Even Perry Gaines, the maitre d’ of Deupree House’s dining hall, has used it there twice so far this year, he said.

When he heard a resident was choking on Monday, he ran out of the kitchen to help. By the time he reached the table, Heimlich was already in the act.

“I stopped what I was doing and waited to see if he needed any assistance,” Gaines said. “Of course he didn’t.”