How cats helped create the first iron lung machines for polio victims (1938)

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Iron lung machines: Twenty-four cats proved the machine could save children

Every year, hundreds of children are suddenly stricken with infantile paralysis [poliomyelitis, or simply polio]. In the past, those whose limbs were paralyzed survived, but those who lost the use of their breathing muscles slowly stopped breathing, and died in agony.

[Below] you see an iron lung — the instrument that saved these children. At right is engineer Philip Drinker, designer of the iron lung with his first experimental respirator, which proved that a cat’s respiration could be maintained even though his muscles were paralyzed.

Before testing the machine on human beings, two dozen cats had to die under the anesthetic to prove his idea was practicable. Their death has meant life to hundreds of infantile-paralysis victims.

How cats helped create the first iron lung machines for polio victims (1938)

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Iron lung machines: Giant respirator breathes for paralysis victims

Of the 570 iron lungs which have been made on the basis of Mr. Drinker’s initial experiment, this machine at the Harvard Medical School is the only one which will hold four patients.

It is actually a room in which rising and falling air pressure alternately compresses and expands the patients’ chests and thus makes them breathe. This action saves their lives until power returns to the breathing muscles and makes them active again.

The advantage of the four-bed machine is that the nurse can easily examine and take care of the children. The variations of the air pressure in the machine do not affect the nurse. Splints on the children’s arms and legs are to prevent contraction of paralyzed muscles.

How cats helped create the first iron lung machines for polio victims (1938)

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