For years, the Dickinson-based NASCO Aquatics, one of the nation's largest lifeguard certification companies, taught a debunked rescue technique, even as other professional and medical organizations said it could further endanger drowning victims.
But NASCO has dropped the technique — a version of the Heimlich maneuver done while a drowning victim is still in the water — from its most recent training manual, which pleases one of NASCO's biggest critics, Peter Heimlich, whose father gave the abdominal-thrusting technique its name.
NASCO founder John Hunsucker swore by the technique, even as the American Red Cross, the American Heart Association, the United States Lifeguard Coalition and the International Life Saving Federation stated it was not beneficial. Most medical and aquatic experts have stated that applying the Heimlich maneuver to a drowning victim delays CPR and could cause a victim to aspirate vomit into the lungs.
Until just recently, Hunsucker's response to the experts has been short and sweet: "Screw 'em."
But Hunsucker isn't disavowing the technique — he told us in an email that, "The abdominal thrust was and is an effective maneuver but is perhaps more useful for facilities that do not have as strong an integrated system."
He also told us this:
"Our mission is to reduce the loss of life due to drowning. As part of that mission, we review our protocols annually and make modifications based on actual rescue data that we accumulate from our clients. All of our protocols are based on actual factual results not on unsupported opinions. Due to our integrated risk management system we are very aware of how well our protocols are working.
Our drowning rate has remained relatively stable at 0.00635 per 100 thousand attendance.
Even though this is roughly 100 times better than CDC's estimate of 0.6 per hundred thousand drownings in pools, we still view any drowning as a real tragedy and felt we needed to work on reducing our rate.
Another factor involved in the decision was the feeling that the first really effective intervention in restoring spontaneous respiration occurs on the deck. To this end, we introduced a metric of 35 seconds....In order to accomplish this time, we removed the abdominal thrust from our in-the-water intervention."
Peter Heimlich shared an email of his own, telling us:
"I'm relieved that NASCO has finally pulled the plug on its reckless "Heimlich for drowning" protocol. Experts have said that for decades NASCO was conducting what amounted to an unsupervised medical experiment using unsuspecting swimmers at their client water parks. Long after prominent medical experts and leading first aid organizations had thoroughly dismissed the treatment as useless and potentially lethal, NASCO persisted. Even after my father's Heimlich Institute stopped advocating the treatment, NASCO wouldn't stop.
On the bright side, NASCO was the last holdout, so this effectively marks the end of my father's bizarre 40-year campaign to promote the treatment."
As always, keep a lookout for sharks. And the Loch Ness Monster.