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Sep 5, 2017 5:15 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Long Island Native Seeks to Eradicate Choking

LifeVac founder Arthur Lih demonstrates a LifeVac on a dummy at an inventor's convention. COURTESY ARTHUR LIH
Sep 14, 2017 11:09 AM

More than 5,000 people in the United States died from choking in 2015, according to the National Safety Council. For the past few years, it’s been Arthur Lih’s mission to drastically reduce that number.

That mission started six years ago, when Mr. Lih was visiting the mother of a friend in the hospital. During the visit, his friend described how he had witnessed a 7-year-old choke to death on a gurney.

“He went about describing the sound of the mother: her cry and how it impacted him,” Mr. Lih said. “It almost made me cry.”

That very night, with his own 7-year-old daughter, Jackie, in mind, Mr. Lih went to his garage and began drafting plans for an anti-choking device. His daughter, he said, is the reason he was committed to seeing the six-year process of creating the device through to the end, and added that he also knows what it feels like to lose a loved one suddenly.

“I saw my best friend die in a car accident when I was 20. If you know the pain of that happening, and then you think of your child dying in your arms, and you know what it’s like, you just can’t give up.”

In August 2014, Mr. Lih launched LifeVac LLC, the company that sells his invention, LifeVac, an anti-choking device that relies on suction to remove food or foreign objects from a person’s airway.

Mr. Lih, a Massapequa native and former Southampton College graduate student who has family in Sag Harbor, modeled LifeVac after a small sink plunger he found while sauntering through a plumbing store. The final product is a bit more advanced, the result of six years of tinkering by Mr. Lih before he was satisfied.

He said he wanted the device to meet three criteria: simplicity, affordability and durability. The apparatus is fitted with an EMT-grade CPR mask, which is meant to cover the victim’s nose and mouth. Attached to the mask is a wide, accordion-like tube with an easy-to-grip handle at the top.

Once a tight seal has been created over the victim’s nose and mouth with the mask, the rescuer must grip the handle and push down forcefully—which vents out air through a disk to prevent the object from being pushed further down the throat—and then pull back up to suction the object out of the victim’s mouth.

The product is registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration but is considered a low-risk device, so pre-sale approval by the FDA is not needed.

LifeVac recommends following Red Cross choking protocol before LifeVac is administered; the product is designed so a choking victim can self-administer, and it eliminates the risk of rib or lung damage that is possible with the Heimlich maneuver.

LifeVac is meant for use when the traditional response to choking—the Heimlich manuever—is not effective. Mr. Lih pointed out that the Heimlich is often fallible, especially for the elderly, the young, the disabled, pregnant women or those who are merely alone.

“It just seems so tragic that we can’t get a grape out of an airway,” he said. “No one capable of fixing it ever addressed it, because they don’t see that moment.”

Mr. Lih said he has sold his device, which retails at $69.95, to 40 schools, thousands of households, facilities offering treatment to patients with cerebral palsy, and a number of Long Island fire departments since his company went to market. While Mr. Lih’s device is not yet in wide use, people seem to be interested in its potential.

“That seems like it would be a good tool to have in your house and on the ambulance. I’d be interested to see how it works in different scenarios,” said Trevor Booth, a state-certified EMT who volunteers at the Westhampton War Memorial Ambulance Association. “We use the same exact mask for ventilating someone. I think it may be a while before it’s on an ambulance, but I can see something like that being used.”

Last week, LifeVacLLC donated one of its devices to the Childcare Center Of the Hamptons in Southampton. Daniella Almansa, the center’s director, said she appreciated the gesture and is happy to have the device on hand, although she said she is not sure if they will use it: It is not recommended for use on children under 40 pounds.

“We’re looking into it, and we’re really thankful to be given it and that someone made something,” she said.

Mr. Lih says that LifeVac successfully saved six lives in the three years it has been on the market: one in New Jersey, one in Idaho, three in the United Kingdom, and one in Spain. There were no complications in any of the cases, he said.

But, for most part, the product remains too new to garner recommendations from the broader medical community.

This year, Mr. Lih said he is focusing on pushing his product into schools while he continues his quest to familiarize and legitimize LifeVac to the public.

“If I could blink, it would be at every school, every neurological facility,” Mr. Lih said.

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