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We’re back this week with some more quirky and fun information. I came across this topic while scrolling through the comments section in one of doctor Mike’s videos.

Ever heard of iron lungs? Me neither!

Iron lungs was an old medical device used in the 1900s. This is the device that has now come to be today’s ventilators

Now, the first thing that came to my mind when I read of Iron lungs was…Iron man. Did iron man originate from iron lungs? Unfortunately, I couldn't find any literature that stated that. If you do happen to find it-Do let us know!

As an iron man enthusiast and a medico, I think it is important to get to know more about iron lungs.

The birth of iron lungs took place in 1927. That was a time when the world was plagued with polio. By 1910, frequent epidemics became regular events throughout the developed world primarily in cities during the summer months.


Though now almost eradicated, it was a terrifying disease in the early 1900s.

Polio or poliomyelitis is a life-threatening disease caused by poliovirus. This virus mainly affects children below the age of 5, however, a child above the age 5 who is unvaccinated can also contract the disease.

Ancient Egyptian paintings and carvings depict otherwise healthy people with withered limbs, and children walking with canes at a young age. It is theorized that the Roman Emperor Claudius was stricken as a child, and this caused him to walk with a limp for the rest of his life. Perhaps the earliest recorded case of poliomyelitis is that of Sir Walter Scott. In 1773, Scott was said to have developed "a severe teething fever which deprived him of the power of his right leg". At the time, polio was not known to medicine. A retrospective diagnosis of polio is considered to be strong due to the detailed account Scott later made, and the resultant lameness of his right leg had an important effect on his life and writing.

Polio has been around for a long time, but it was never considered a major problem until the end of the 1800s, when something unusual began to happen.

Here is its pathogenesis and symptoms,


Early treatments for paralyzed muscles advocated the use of splints to prevent muscle tightening and rest for the affected muscles. Many paralyzed polio patients lay in plaster body casts for months at a time. But long periods in a cast often resulted in atrophy of both affected and healthy muscles.

Treatment of polio was revolutionized in the 1930s by Elizabeth Kenny, a self-trained nurse from Queensland, Australia. Kenny developed a form of physical therapy that used hot, moist packs and massage and exercise and early activity to maximize the strength of unaffected muscles and stimulate the remaining nerve cells that had not been killed by the virus.

Kenny later established the Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in America and by the mid-1900s her therapy was the accepted treatment for paralytic polio. And it is still used today.

The iron lung was developed in 1928 for patients whose lung muscles were paralyzed so they could no longer breath unaided. Most patients only had to spend a short period in the iron lung before they regained the use of their lungs. But some patients with permanent paralysis of the lungs had to stay encased up to their necks in the large cumbersome contraptions for the rest of their lives.

How did the iron lung work?

The iron lung was born in 1927, when Philip Drinker and Louis Agassiz Shaw at Harvard University devised a machine that could maintain respiration, pulling air into and out of the lungs by changing the pressure in an airtight metal box. It was powered by an electric motor with two vacuum cleaners.

An iron lung is a type of negative pressure ventilator (NPV), a mechanical respirator which encloses most of a person's body, and varies the air pressure in the enclosed space, to stimulate breathing. It assists breathing when muscle control is lost, or the work of breathing exceeds the person's ability.

Coming to our Guinness world record holder,

Paul Alexander.

Paul Alexander was born in 1946. At the age of 6 (1952), he contracted polio. He was then paralyzed, only being able to move his neck, head and mouth.

In the 1950s, there was an outbreak of Polio, where a lot of children were rushed to the hospital where they were treated with the iron lung.

When the doctor realized he was not breathing, they rushed him into an iron lung. Although many patients recover from the respiratory paralysis, Alexander had permanent paralysis of respiratory muscles therefore putting him on permanent iron lungs.

He learned glossopharyngeal breathing which helped him leave the iron lung for short periods of time. Being in an iron lung made it impossible for him to go to school thus making him the first homeschooled child.

Paul Alexander is now 77 years old, an American lawyer and has also written a book called Three Minutes for a Dog: My Life in an Iron Lung. He is the last person living inside an iron lung.


That was it for today's blog, everyone. If you'd like us write more about medieval medical devices, let us know in the comments down below.

Thank you.

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