Tim and Alexander Adams: Helping With the Heimlich

Alexander and Tim Adams

What did you bring home from your first week at Scout camp? First-year camper Alexander Adams and his dad, Tim, of El Dorado Hills, California, brought home a family business, although they didn’t realize it at the time.

When Alexander signed up to attend Camp O-Ki-Hi in the summer of 2006, Tim, a Life Scout and anesthesiologist, agreed to come along and teach the First Aid and Emergency Preparedness merit badges. Knowing the importance of learning by doing, Tim scrounged around his hospital for teaching aids such as CPR mannequins. “We got to the part about choking, and I didn’t find anything,” he said. (Trainers typically either talk through the technique or have students practice by making abdominal thrusts in the air or without exerting any force.)

One day in the operating room, Tim realized that an Ambu bag—a portable breathing device that EMTs use—could be used to simulate the Heimlich maneuver. He took one home, and he and Alexander went to work. “He builds a lot of stuff in the garage,” Tim said. “He’s always been kind of an engineering kid.”

After a little trial and error, father and son came up with a crude simulator: an inflatable rubber bag duct-taped to a Velcro waistband; a cork stuck in the bag’s neck would pop out when a “rescuer” gave the right thrust to a “victim.” They took the simulator to camp, where it was an instant success with Scouts working on the First Aid merit badge. “They said, ‘Wow, I never understood what they were talking about,’” Tim said. “They wanted to do it over and over again because it was kind of fun. And they left totally understanding it.”

Back home, Tim said, “one thing led to another.” His brother-in-law suggested patenting the device, a CPR instructor friend asked to borrow it, and before long, ActFast Medical LLC (www.actfastmed.com) was born. Since 1998, the company has sold about 10,000 Anti Choking Trainers—none of which include duct tape—in about 40 countries. According to Tim’s wife, Marti, the company’s chief financial officer, more than a million people have trained on the device.

Some of those people—and those they’ve rescued—have contacted the Adamses to thank them. “People who have actually saved people who are choking have said it’s identical,” Marti said. “You have to have the right hand placement, the right movements.”

The device has paid off in other ways. Alexander used it for his Eagle Scout service project, which involved teaching the Heimlich maneuver to CPR classes and school personnel (including his old kindergarten teacher). He also worked as ActFast Medical’s warehouse director throughout high school and now, as a student at the University of Texas at Austin, manages the company website. When fellow members of Troop 454 needed to raise money to attend the 2010 National Scout Jamboree, several worked in the warehouse with Alexander.

For his part, Tim hesitates to brag about the invention. “It’s almost like it was meant to be, and we were just helping it along,” he said. “It’s hard to take credit for it because I feel like I just watched it more than anything else.”


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