New Role For Heimlich

Long used to save choking victims beside the kitchen table, the Heimlich Maneuver is expanding its scope. In fact, the well known move has been adopted by one of the country's biggest lifeguard training groups as the first step in rescuing drowning victims, CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports.

Just shy of her third birthday last summer, Alexa Dayan nearly drowned. She had toppled quietly into the water while playing poolside. Her parents were only a few feet away and they struggled to revive her with mouth-to mouth resuscitation.

AlexaÂ's mother Betty recalled: Â"One of the children came and started screaming: Alexa's in the pool, Alexa's in the pool!Â"

3-year-old Alexa Dayan was saved by the Heimlich maneuver last year

But it was neighbor Richard Keller, a trained lifeguard, who brought breath back to Alexa. He did it not with CPR, but with the Heimlich maneuver.

Â"I grabbed her and gave her probably 4 or 5 abdominal thrusts very quickly... a lot of water started to come out of her mouth,Â" explained Keller.

Developed in 1974 by Dr. Henry Heimlich, the technique is now accepted as the best way to save choking victims. The procedure acts by forcing objects out of the airway. The idea in drowning is that it forces water out of the body in the same way.

Dr. Heimlich believes that more than a thousand drowning victims could be saved every year using the maneuver that bears his name. Toward that end, the Heimlich was recently listed by one of the country's biggest lifeguard training groups as their first step in lifesaving.

Despite increased acceptance, some emergency medical experts think the technique could do more harm than good.

Mary Fran Hazinski of the American Heart Association warns: Â"it can cause vomiting, aspiration, diaphragm rupture, aortic rupture... even rupture of the heart!Â"

Both the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross promote CPR, and not the Heimlich Maneuver, as the first and best tool to use.

But HeimlichÂ's proponents note that good CPR takes time and training. They say the Heimlich maneuver is a well-known and almost instinctual procedure.

Betty Dayan has become a proponent. Â"Its such common sense, but we never heard there was any kind of correlation between the Heimlich and a drowning situation," she said.

For the Dayans, trying the Heimlich maneuver may not have been a standard lifesaving practice, but they say it was the best risk they ever took.