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FRIDAY, JULY 6, 2007

Heimlich removed from Spirit of America

By Emily Peck 340-2408

To avoid being pulled deeper into a family dispute, the Spirit of America Festival dropped H.J. Heimlich's name from its humanitarian award.

The festival committee did not use Dr. Heimlich's name during Wednesday's ceremony.

Lt. Gen. Frank Libutti presented the honor as the Spirit of America Festival Humanitarian Award.

"It was because of the controversy created by Peter Heimlich that we lost the H.J. Heimlich name," said Beverly Walker, president of the Spirit of America Festival. "The decision had nothing to do with the medical career of Henry Heimlich."

The board unanimously voted to relabel the award before the festival Wednesday. The name change is permanent.

In 1994, the first humanitarian award was presented to Henry Heimlich. The honor recognized the doctor for his invention of the Heimlich manuever, an abdominal thrust technique credited with saving more than 50,000 lives.

The award recently found itself in the middle of a controversy between the famous doctor and his son, Peter Heimlich.

Peter Heimlich says his father conducted illegal malaria therapy experiments on patients in Third World countries. He calls it his "personal responsibility" to inform the public of Dr. Heimlich's "crackpot ideas."

Elements of the Heimlich controversy have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and on ABC's "20/20" and "Good Morning America."

"The decision to drop the name had nothing to do with the credibility of Peter's accusations," said David Carney, awards chairman for Spirit of America festival.

"Peter Heimlich has never called me," he said. "Nobody has asked us to drop the name or the award. To us it's a closed issue."

Walker said the festival board wants to focus the award on humanitarianism and avoid controversial issues.

The award is not an annual honor. This year was the first time in four years it was given.

"It's always been an optional award," said Walker. "It will continue to be an optional award."

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