One of the most visible signs of polio is paralysis, often seen in the legs, but did you know that polio also affects the lungs? When breathing muscles become paralysed it can cause death in some polio sufferers. During South Australia’s 1937 polio outbreak, patients experiencing respiratory impairment were treated in a negative pressure ventilator, or as they are more commonly known, an ‘Iron Lung’.
The patient was placed inside the main chamber of the ‘Iron Lung’ from the neck down. A vacuum was created within the chamber, forcing the the lungs to alternately suck air in and push it out. We are fortunate to have a 1940 model in our collection, created by South Australia’s own Edward Both. Edward received an Order of the British Empire in recognition of his life saving work. There is still no cure for polio. Vaccination is the best preventative.
Written by Jacquelyne Ladner, CALHN Health Museum