Iron Lung for Polio Victims

I am just old enough to remember the horrors of polio. A friend of mine had an older brother who was one of the last to be affected by it – he walked with a stick and his leg was in a brace so he was an object of pity for most of us.

When I was at medical school  we learned of the miracle of penicillin that relegated the disease to the dustbin of history, but the lecturer who taught us about it, and who was himself a victim, had a son who nearly died due to an adverse reaction to the same antibiotic. It is now clear the sometimes fatal reaction to penicillin was due to lack of purity.

But for some of the worst affected polio victims, they were imprisoned in a machine invented near Bristol, called the iron lung. I’d never seen one, but here it is, waiting to find a proper display, at the Beamish Museum in Northumberland.

iron lung machine

iron lung

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5 thoughts on “Iron Lung for Polio Victims

  1. Wow! Never heard of the iron lung. Looks really scary. Polio was almost eradicated by the time I was born but I have seen some of the last affected people and it’s a deadly disease for sure. I feel sorry for them.

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  2. So THAT’S what an iron long looks like! I really should get over to Beamish – I keep meaning to. I had an uncle who caught polio just after the war – he was an active young chap, in the RAF, and then…he spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair, but was always cheerful – a fabulous guy. To be admired.

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  3. Perhaps more than penicillin, Jonas Salk’s vaccine ensured that those of us born from the mid 1950s on did not encounter this scourge. My father and his brother contracted polio in the late 1930s but fortunately not so severly that they needed the iron lung. With the use of Sr Kenny’s treatment both recovered fully to the point where Dad was able to join the army, no questions asked, in 1950. It is an insidious disease and in the 1980s he developed Post-polio Syndrome which resulted in him having to wear a caliper again. Fortunately he found a brilliant physio who got him to the point where he could discard them a second time. Needless to say, I get a bit more than cranky with the anti-vaxxers.

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