A woman who spent nearly 60 years of her life in an iron lung after being diagnosed with polio as a child died Wednesday after a power failure shut down the machine that kept her breathing.
Dianne Odell, 61, had been confined to the 7-foot-long, 750 pound machine since she was stricken by polio at 3 years old! Dianne was afflicted with “bulbo-spinal” polio a few years before a vaccine was discovered.
Family members were unable to get an emergency generator working for the iron lung after a power failure knocked out the electricity.
How the F does an iron lung work?
The person using the iron lung lays in the cylindrical steel drum chamber. A door allowing the head and neck to remain free is then closed, forming a sealed, air-tight compartment enclosing the rest of the person's body.
Pumps that control airflow periodically decrease and increase the air pressure within the chamber, and particularly, on the chest. When the pressure falls below that within the lungs, the lungs expand and atmospheric pressure pushes air from outside the chamber in via the person's nose and airways to keep the lungs filled; when the pressure rises above that within the lungs, the reverse occurs, and air is expelled.
In this manner, the iron lung mimics the physiologic action of breathing: by periodically altering intrathoracic pressure, it causes air to flow in and out of the lungs.
The machine was invented by a few dudes at the Harvard School of Public Health, and was originally built/used/intended for treatment of coal gas poisoning but it found its most famous use in the mid-1900's when victims of polio, stricken with paralysis, notably paralysis of the diaphragm, became unable to breathe, and were placed in these steel chambers to survive.
Entire hospital wards were filled with rows of iron lungs at the height of the polio outbreaks of the 1940's and 50's. With the success of the worldwide polio vaccination programs which have virtually eradicated new cases of the disease, and the advent of modern ventilators that control breathing via the direct intubation of the airway, the use of the iron lung, for the most part, has become a thing of the past.