Dr. Paul DeLeeuw worked in anesthesiology from 1978 until 2008 when a shoulder injury due to a bicycling accident rendered him unable to practice anesthesia anymore. Since then, he has worked as a bariatric doctor helping patients to lose weight throughout the central Florida and South Florida markets. Dr. Paul DeLeeuw frequently enjoys recounting some of his most memorable patient experiences from throughout his long and illustrious career.
Many of Dr. DeLeeuw’s colorful stories center on administering life-saving care under the most unusual circumstances – such as the night he was attending a theater performance or on a flight to a family reunion. While he takes great pride in his ability to assess a situation and effectively attend to an unresponsive patient, regardless of the circumstances, he has expressed on more than one occasion that his life-saving care has resulted in further complications for himself.
Luckily, not all of his stories end with the ire of an inconvenienced flight crew or the solicitation of his help by bloodthirsty malpractice lawyers. He has also quietly saved the life of a person who was very important to him in the privacy of his own home.
History of the Heimlich Maneuver
Although the history of the Heimlich Maneuver is considered to be questionable, having received multiple differing accounts of its invention over the years, Dr. Paul DeLeeuw recalls that it began with Dr. Heimlich on a flight in the early 1970s. At the time of this supposed invention, Dr. Heimlich was a well-known chest surgeon and creative physician who had patented a chest drainage flutter valve that saved many lives during the Vietnam War.
Dr. Heimlich is said to have watched his seatmate begin to struggle and point at his throat, unable to make any noise. It became clear that his airway was completely obstructed, most likely with the food in the full meal being served to passengers at that moment. The recommended treatment at that time was to perform a series of back blows, which Dr. Heimlich did, but to no avail.
As the man continued to turn blue, Dr. Heimlich had a flash of inspiration to punch the man in the upper abdomen. He did, and a piece of chicken flew out of the man’s throat. He was able to breathe again.
A fully obstructed airway is a well-known problem in medical circles, and has come to be known as a “Cafe Coronary,” which refers to a “sudden collapse while eating that results from food impaction closing the glottis.” It is most often incorrectly attributed to coronary artery disease. The sudden onset of symptoms simulates acute myocardial infarction, and without assistance in the form of the Heimlich Maneuver, victims will inevitably die.
Dr. Paul DeLeeuw’s Heimlich Maneuver Experience
In addition to learning about Cafe Coronaries and the Heimlich Maneuver, Dr. Paul DeLeeuw later learned that this type of airway obstruction is most common in people who wear complete upper dentures. The denture plate covers the palate, so the sense of food presence is lost.
In the late 1990s, Dr. Paul DeLeeuw found himself at home in Florida enjoying lunch with his mother, who was visiting. His mother, Olga, was 76 at the time, and Dr. DeLeeuw was working as the Chief of Anesthesia at Cedars Medical Center in Miami. Olga was enthusiastically giving Dr. DeLeeuw unsolicited advice on how to run his practice over a healthy lunch of chicken.
Suddenly, Olga was unable to speak. She stood up and walked to the sink, gagging but unable to breathe or make any sound at all. Dr. Paul DeLeeuw asked her what was wrong, but she could only shake her head as her eyes bulged out.
Dr. Paul DeLeeuw jumped up, stood behind his mother, clasped his hands together, and pulled hard – up and back simultaneously. A chunk of chicken shot out of her mouth, hit the window, and fell into the sink. Olga recovered her breath and immediately returned to the conversation at hand.
Thanks to Dr. Paul DeLeeuw’s quick thinking and medical training, Olga went on to live for 20 more years in excellent health. It is rare that a person is able to give just as much back to their parents, as was given to them – and yet, Dr. Paul DeLeeuw was able to give his mother life that day.
A Compassionate Physician
Dr. Paul DeLeeuw has spent his long career providing compassionate medical care, often visiting with patients after they have left his care. Outside of his professional life, he has also donated his time to a variety of causes that are meaningful to him.
At Beth Israel Synagogue, Paul DeLeeuw delivers meals, brings care packages to those unable to leave their homes, and provides rides to services for people unable to drive. He has also donated more than 500 hours to Loaves and Fishes, providing meals to those in need. Paul has also given more than 600 hours to Learning Ally, a nonprofit that provides books to persons who are blind or dyslexic, as well as kids who require academic assistance.
Raised by hardworking and generous parents who always put others before themselves, Dr. Paul DeLeeuw has worked to continue their legacy in all of his undertakings. During his career as a physician, he has saved countless lives while providing comfort to his patients at the same time.