This is a true story about how seemingly little things can sometimes, someway, somehow, someday – have big consequences.
It involves a peanut, a future president, an alert, devoted staff member – and the Heimlich Maneuver – a lifesaving medical technique devised by an American thoracic surgeon named Dr. Henry Heimlich.
It’s been 31 years since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the highly guarded concrete barrier that once upon a time separated the famed German city. The sight of protests and parades, along with tears and tension, the wall became a glaring, visual symbol of the Cold War – the second part of the 20th Century’s most contentious historical flashpoint.
On the evening of November 9, 1989, less than a week after a mass protest in East Berlin, images of the crumbling concrete startled and stunned the world. The fall of the Berlin Wall ushered in a new era of European unification and the peaceful end to a conflict that stretched across six presidential administrations.
But it might never have happened as it did – or when it did – if not for an unrelated, fortuitous series of providential events years earlier.
Shortly after news of the Heimlich Maneuver hit the headlines, then California Governor Ronald Reagan was talking about the technique with Michael Deaver, a member of his administration.
Reagan, a voracious reader, had just come across the story in a journal and asked Deaver if he was familiar with it.
“No,” his aide replied.
“Let me show you how to do it,” his boss offered. “You should know.”
Fast forward to 1976 and Ronald Reagan’s campaign to wrestle the Republican nomination from incumbent Gerald Ford.
Flying at 30,000 feet and hustling between speeches, Mr. Reagan was pitching peanuts into his mouth when he suddenly began choking. Struggling to get up, his security detail sprang into action, quickly reaching for the oxygen, assuming he was having a heart attack.
“No,” insisted Deaver. “I saw him eat a peanut. He’s choking.”
Mr. Deaver’s mind suddenly flashed back to Governor Reagan’s Heimlich lesson from years earlier.
“I wrapped my arms around him, but struggled to get anywhere,” he remembered. “His chest was so broad and muscular that it took several abdominal thrusts before the peanut was dislodged.”
Deaver had saved his boss’s life – a singular, dramatic turn, but also an event that would wind up shaping the last quarter of the 20th Century.
Ronald Reagan was unsuccessful in his 1976 presidential campaign, of course, but returned in 1980 – cruising to victory and then reelection in 1984.
Historians are in agreement that it was the Gipper’s passionate and principled laser-focused devotion to freedom, coupled with bold and aggressive policies, that crippled the Soviet threat, setting the stage for that historic November night in Berlin.
But if not for Henry Heimlich’s technique, Ronald Reagan’s lesson – and Michael Deaver’s quick action – it might never have happened.
It was the English hymnist William Cowper who famously wrote, “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform; He plants his footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm.”
Never underestimate the small things in your life – because, in reality, they often turn into big things down the road.
Photo from Flickr