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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A Personal Account of Home Made Ventilator Saving a Life

My post from last week about homemade ventilators used during the polio epidemics in the 1940s and early 1950s (Everything Old is New Again) generated some response. I received a personal account of a ventilator being quickly made for a child during a polio outbreak in Marquette Michigan. This is an account I got from Joan and Don Miller in Marquette, who generously let me reprint it here.


These are some recollections of mine regarding the iron lung that I saved from my grandfather Max Reynolds belongings. It appears that the story I remember takes place in the late 1930's here in Marquette during the polio epidemic. I will start out with a bit of background on the gentleman and then relate the story of this device.

Grandfather Max came to Marquette as a civil engineer with an explosives company. He married into the Peter White family, one of the founding fathers of Marquette. As time went along Grandfather got very involved with what then was St. Lukes Hospital- now Marquette General Hospital, The Michigan Crippled Children's Clinic, and Bay Cliffs Health Camp. He also pursued two of his most cherished hobbies- boating and photography. The boating interest lead to the building of the Lake Superior Yacht Yard along with it the shop where many things were created and built.

Maxwell K. Reynolds became a director and chairman of the board at the hospital, then a small nonprofit hospital. So he was very interested in the day to day operations of the hospital. When the polio sickness arrived, he got started creating and building the Iron Lungs. I'm not really sure where he picked up the ideas, but he was a very inventive and creative person. So he guided his staff in making a number of these devices. Some of the lungs he made were built out of old oil drums, boxes, or about anything else he could find.

One day the hospital called with an urgent request for a lung. Apparently, they had a patient that required help quickly, and could he help. Max said he would provide a device. He went quickly to the old railway station and found an old refrigerator box- made of plywood in those days. He got that to the Shop and the crew started putting together the unit I still have. A door was made on one side, secured with window sash locks. The neck hole was secured with a rubber knelling pad with hole to fit the youngsters neck. Next, a source of vacuum, so grandmas vacuum cleaner was connected to the box. The air was let into the box with a simple plug valve that would be operated by an attendant to control the child's breathing. Later they tried a phonograph as an actuator, but that required some extra time to perfect. So the story goes, from the first call to the time the unit was delivered was 4 hours!

I guess there are not too many people around now that can assist with this accounting. This is as I recall, and I must add that grand pa Max died when I was about 8 years old. He had many talents and tried to get me started on some of them. I only wish that we had a bit more time, since he was quite a guy!

Recalled by Peter W. Frazier, grandson to Maxwell K. Reynolds, Marquette, Michigan

There is a similar account in the Marquette Monthly of Sep 2006, Back Then.

Link here:
The Wooden Lung, Fighting polio with boxes and vacuum cleaners. by Becky Kratz

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