Heimlich alternative? KWWL investigates new medical device offered to Iowa school

A company gave an eastern Iowa school district a new medical device, free of charge.

The company behind the "Dechoker" claims it can save the lives of young choking victims.

Union Community School District Nurse Cheryl Wiebbecke says the company offered to give the school four Dechoker devices for free. 

"Said they would give them to us, free of charge. All they wanted was some publicity," she said. 

Online, the inventor, Alan Carver, shows people how to use the plunger-like device. He says you can use it to dislodge anything in the throat. 

The website, claims that the Dechoker is 99% risk- free. The website also says, "The Dechoker is so simple to use, a child can save the life of an adult using the device."

The inventor emailed KWWL, saying, "I’ve used it [Dechoker] on myself 300 times."

The Union Community School District said abdominal thrusts, also known as the Heimlich maneuver, would always serve as their first, go-to life-saving approach they’d use when someone is chocking. They thought maybe this could be a backup, in the rare occasion the Heimlich might not work. 

KWWL noticed some red flags. First, on their website, it says the Dechoker is ‘FDA Registered.’ That means it’s not FDA Approved. 

In fact a statement from the FDA that was sent to KWWL says, "The FDA has not approved or cleared a medical device specifically to open an airway or facilitate breathing in a first aid or rescue choking emergency. We typically do not comment on products that have not been approved or cleared by the agency."

The Dechoker has also never undergone a live clinical trial. 

KWWL spoke with Waterloo Medical Supervisor Jason Hernandez and Iowa State EMS Medical Director Dr. David Stilley. We asked what they think of the medical device. 

Hernandez says, "It’s probably not something we would use on the ambulances or with Waterloo fire."

Stilley adds, "I’m involved in EMS on a daily basis, and I have never heard of the device. If someone offered this device, free of charge, I would be very cautious about putting it into use, until there’s medical research to support it. I personally, if it was my child, I would rather a bystander do their best with the Heimlich, than use an unproven medical technology." 

KWWL spoke with the Union Community School District’s superintendent. Superintendent Travis Fleshner looked at our interviews and agrees that, "Those devices will be removed or sent back to the company until they can provide FDA approval on them."

KWWL spoke with the inventor of the Dechoker on several occasions. He says in about 6 months, "He will share a large sample clinical trial." He adds, "Most studies at this point have been bench studies." 

The inventor also claims that the Dechoker has saved 17 lives so far that he’s aware of. 

Online, the device costs between 80 and 100 dollars.

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