The Last Of The Iron Lungs

Paul Alexander spends almost every moment of the day inside his iron lung. Photo: Jennings Brown for Gizmodo

Martha Lillard spends half of every day with her body encapsulated in a half-century old machine that forces her to breathe. Only her head sticks out of the end of the antique iron lung. On the other end, a motorised lever pulls the leather bellows, creating negative pressure that induces her lungs to suck in air.

In 2013, the Post-Polio Health International (PPHI) organisations estimated that there were six to eight iron lung users in the United States. Now, PPHI executive director Brian Tiburzi says he doesn't know anyone alive still using the negative-pressure ventilators. Recently, I met three polio survivors who depend on iron lungs. They are among the last few, possibly the last three.

Martha Lillard inside her iron lung, which has been modified by mechanics over the years. Photo: Jennings Brown for Gizmodo

Their locations form a line that cuts directly through the heart of the US - one in Dallas, one outside Oklahoma City, and one in Kansas City, Missouri - what some call tornado alley.

The human battery

Storms have always been especially difficult for Lillard because if the iron lung loses power, she could die in her sleep. She lives alone, aside from three dogs and 20 geckos that she keeps in plastic terrariums filled with foliage and wool. "They like to sleep in the fleece, wrapped up like a burrito," she said as she introduced me to a few of her favourites.

Lillard sleeps in the iron lung, so it is in her bedroom. Even though the tank is a dull canary yellow it pops in the room, which is painted chartreuse - like the rest of the house, inside and out - and filled with toys and dolls that she has collected throughout her lifetime. On the walls hang a crucifix, a plush Pink Panther, and mirrors strategically placed so she can see around the room and into the hallway.

Her iron lung has portholes and windows on the side; a pressure gauge at the top. The machine is actually cobbled together from two iron lungs. One, the March of Dimes gave her when she was a child. The other, she bought from someone in Utah, after she haggled him down from $US25,000 ($33,127) to $US8000 ($10,600). The body has also been modified over the years. Her grandfather invented a motorised pulley system that closes the bed tray into the tank after she climbs in. He also replaced the brushed aluminium mirror above the neck slot with a real mirror so that she could have a clear view to the rest of the room when she's locked in the canister. A local engineer used a motor from an old voter registration device to build a mechanism that tightens the collar around her neck after she slips her head through the portal. The fan belts and half-horsepower motor have been replaced about 10 times.

When Lillard is outside of the tank, she can breathe using a positive-pressure ventilator, a smaller device that pushes air into her lungs. But that instrument doesn't provide the same relief as when she puts her entire body into the 290kg, 2.3m-long apparatus. Plus, forcing air into the lungs can cause inflammation or damage the air sacs. When she's sick, she can only heal if she spends full days in the iron lung. She calls herself "a human battery" because she has to recharge every day.

Lillard is 69, 145cm and weighs 44kg. Her back is arched from scoliosis. She didn't get surgery when she was a child because doctors didn't expect her to make it to her teenage years, and she never had an operation as an adult because polio survivors can stop breathing when they're on anaesthesia.

She was infected with polio at her fifth birthday party at the Joyland Amusement Park on 8 June 1953. Nine days later, her neck ached so bad she couldn't raise her head off the pillow. Her parents said it was probably just a summer cold, but Lillard could tell they were afraid. They took her in for a spinal tap, which confirmed it was polio.

Lillard looks through a photo album on her living room floor. Photo: Jennings Brown for Gizmodo

Lillard asked me to take out a photo album so she could show me snapshots of her youth as she sat on a blanket on the floor of her living room, where it's more comfortable for her to sit when she's out of the machine. "I wanted to be a ballerina. That was my big wish. I started walking on my toes when I was one, and I just constantly was after ballerina dolls. We didn't have a dance school in town until I was five and my mum was going to enrol me that year, but I got sick," she told me. "I think now of my life as a ballet. I have to balance so many things. It's a phenomenal amount of energy I have to use to coordinate everything in my life."

Polio is a silver bullet

"All the mothers were just terrified because people were just getting it right and left," Lillard said. "They didn't know if it was a virus or bacteria or how you caught it."

Poliomyelitis is a highly contagious disease that can cause paralysis of legs, arms and respiratory muscles. "The polio virus is a silver bullet designed to kill specific parts of the brain," Richard Bruno, a clinical psychophysiologist, and director of the International Centre for Polio Education said. "But parents today have no idea what polio was like, so it's hard to convince somebody that lives are at risk if they don't vaccinate."

When Lillard was a child, polio was every parent's worst nightmare. The worst polio outbreak year in US history took place in 1952, a year before Lillard was infected. There were about 58,000 reported cases. Out of all the cases, 21,269 were paralysed and 3145 died. "They closed theatres, swimming pools, families would keep their kids away from other kids because of the fear of transmission," Bruno said.

The emergency polio ward at Haynes Memorial Hospital in Boston, 16 August 1955. Patients are using the same Emerson iron lung model that some polio survivors use today. Photo: AP

Children under the age of five are especially susceptible. In the 1940s and 1950s, hospitals across the US were filled with rows of iron lungs that kept victims alive. Lillard recalls being in rooms packed with metal tubes - especially when there were storms and all the men, women, adults and children would be moved to the same room so nurses could manually operate the iron lungs if the power went out. "The period of time that it took the nurse to get out of the chair, it seemed like forever because you weren't breathing," Lillard said. "You just laid there and you could feel your heart beating and it was just terrifying. The only noise that you can make when you can't breathe is clicking your tongue. And that whole dark room just sounded like a big room full of chickens just cluck-cluck-clucking. All the nurses were saying, 'Just a second, you'll be breathing in just a second.'"

In 1955, Americans finally had access to the polio vaccine developed by Jonas Salk. "It was hailed as a medical miracle and the excitement about it was really unparalleled as far as health history in the United States," Jay Wenger, director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's polio-eradication effort told me. "No one who remembers the 1950s, in terms of polio, wants to go back there and be in that situation again."

By 1961, there were only 161 reported cases in the US. But in 1988, there were still an estimated 350,000 cases worldwide. That year, the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and the Rotary Club began an aggressive campaign to end polio everywhere. Last year there were 37 cases reported in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

According to Bruno, if an infected person in either of those countries visited family in an area such as Orange County, California, where many parents are opting out of vaccinating their children, "then we could be talking about the definition of a polio epidemic."

Wenger said that's why the Gates Foundation recently joined the other organisations in the global effort to eradicate polio. "If there's a virus anywhere in the world, it could just come back in," Wenger said. "Some little kid could get on a plane and fly in and reinfect an area. And if the kids in that area are not vaccinated, you could start the virus circulating again."

But even though the last wild case of polio in the US was in 1979, it still haunts the country. "A lot of people think of polio as a disease of the past and don't realise there are people here today that are still suffering the effects of polio." said Brian Tiburzi, executive director of Post-Polio Health International (PPHI), an advocacy group for the estimated 350,000 to 500,000 polio survivors living in the US.

Some polio survivors were only partially impaired or got better. For instance, Mia Farrow only had to spend eight months in an iron lung when she was nine, before going on to become a famous actress and polio advocate. And golfer Jack Nicklaus had symptoms for two weeks as a child, but as an adult only had sore joints.

But many polio victims have breathing difficulties for the rest of their lives, or have issues later in life when overworked neurons burn out, a condition called post-polio syndrome. "I breathe 20 per cent of what you breathe with every breath," Lillard explained to me. "You still have the neurons that work the muscles that you breathe with."

Let it breathe for you

Lillard offered to let me try out her iron lung about an hour after I met her. She showed me how to operate the ad hoc mechanisms that would lock me into the tank and tighten the collar around my neck like a camera shutter - tight enough that no air can escape, but loose enough that I don't choke myself.

I climbed into the bed tray, slipped my head through the hole, tightened the collar, then flipped the switch that controls the pulley that closes the tray into the main canister. As the system locked me in, I had a quick wave of claustrophobic panic and my instinct was to take deep breaths, but a motor was controlling that. I tried to describe the feeling to Lillard, but the machine was inhaling for me, so no sound came out. I had to wait a moment for the release.

"Let the air out of your lungs and let it breathe for you," Lillard said. "Imagine if you were real tired of breathing, how good that would feel - if you were struggling to take a breath."

Being in an iron lung was the most relief and discomfort I have ever felt at the same time. I slowly got used to the mechanical rhythm and began feeling a little relaxed. I tried closing my mouth, and air still rushed in through my lips. I felt like a vacuum cleaner.

As I climbed out, Lillard warned me to be careful and not break any of the switches or pulleys. If I damaged anything, and she wasn't able to get someone to repair it within a few hours, she might not have made it through the night. A few weeks earlier, the collar-opener broke and she was trapped inside. Fortunately, her housekeeper was there to help her force it open, and a friend who does custom metal fabrication for motorcycles, planes and other machines, Tony Baustert, came a few hours later to repair it.

Recently, an ice storm knocked her power out for three days and the generator malfunctioned. The fire department came over but they wouldn't run a power line from down the street or provide a temporary generator, Lillard said. Fortunately, one of the firefighters came by when he was off-duty and fixed the generator. During the panic, Lillard thought about Dianne Odell, a polio survivor who died in her iron lung in Memphis in 2008, after she lost power during a storm. Her father and brother-in-law took turns pumping the bellows by hand but couldn't sustain the rhythm long enough to keep her alive.

Understandably, Lillard lives in a constant state of anxiety over the functionality of her iron lung. But she said the company responsible for servicing the device, Philips Respironics, hasn't been much help. She recalls one time when a repair person disassembled the machine to make a repair, then tried to leave before putting it back together. Another technician took it apart and couldn't figure out how to fix it, so Lillard had to call another mechanically skilled friend, Jerry House, to help.

Lillard demonstrates how to use the ad hoc mechanisms on her iron lung. Photo: Jennings Brown for Gizmodo

These days her biggest concern is the canvas spiral collar that creates the seal around her neck. She used to have to replace them every few months after they wore out and stopped keeping a seal. Back then she could get them for a few dollars each, but she recently bought two from Respironics for a little more than $US200 ($265) each. She said the company wouldn't sell her any more because they only have 10 left. For years she's been trying to find someone to make a new collar. She uses Scotch guard on her current supply and tries not to move her neck around, hoping to make them last as long as possible.

I asked her what happens if she runs out. "Well, I die," she said, in a matter-of-fact tone.

Iron lungs became the responsibility of Philips through mergers and acquisitions. The March of Dimes supplied and serviced iron lungs until the end of the '60s, around the same time the J.H. Emerson company stopped manufacturing the product. Once Salk's vaccine diminished the need for polio support and advocacy, March of Dimes handed off iron lung responsibilities to Lifecare Services. Medical supply company Respironics acquired Lifecare in 1996, then merged with Philips in 2007.

Over the years, Lifecare and Respironics have tried to get more polio survivors to use alternative breathing aids - devices that were newer, cheaper, easier to service, and didn't require parts that were no longer manufactured. In 2004, Respironics gave iron lung users three options: Transition to another ventilator device, keep using the iron lung but know that Respironics may not be able to repair the device, or accept full ownership and responsibility of the iron lung and find someone else to repair it. According to the Post-Polio Health International, responses "ranged from 'it is understandable that repairing a device made that long ago would be difficult' to 'a multi-million dollar company should be able to just make parts'".

Philips Respironics denied multiple requests to comment for this story. But polio advocates believe the company can do more to help polio survivors who have struggled with the effects of polio their entire lives.

"It would be helpful if the people who are contractually responsible and morally and ethically responsible for polio survivors did something to help these people," said International Centre for Polio Education director Richard Bruno. "It would be like if you bought a used car, you drove it a block and the car stopped working. Then you go back to the car dealer and you say, 'Hey, the car stopped working.' And they say, 'Well too bad, you bought it and that's the way life goes.' Except instead of a car it's a machine that you need to live."

The iron lung's a part of me

Like Lillard, Paul Alexander, 70, also relies on a mechanic to keep his iron lung running.

Alexander writes his memoir using a pen attached to a stick. Photo: Jennings Brown for Gizmodo

I met Alexander a few times in his small house in Dallas. He spends nearly every moment in his iron lung in the centre of his living room, which is decorated with degrees, awards, pictures of family, and a drawing of the Scottish folk singer Donovan, who had polio. When people enter the front door a few metres away from him, he usually greets them with a warm upside-down smile, reflected in the mirror above his head.

One of the times I visited Alexander, I walked in on him editing a memoir that's set to be published in a few months. He types and answers the phone with his mouth, using a capped pen attached to a plastic wand he clenches with his teeth. During another visit, his friend and mechanical saviour Brady Richards stopped by to check in on Alexander.

Paul Alexander when he was younger and less reliant on the iron lung than he is today. Photo Courtesy Paul Alexander

Alexander, who got polio in 1952 when he was five, is almost entirely paralysed below the neck, but that hasn't stopped him from going to law school and becoming a trial lawyer. "When I transferred to University of Texas, they were horrified to think that I was going to bring my iron lung down, but I did, and I put it in the dorm, and I lived in the dorm with my iron lung," he told me. "I had a thousand friends before it was over with, who all wanted to find out what's that guy downstairs with a head sticking out of a machine doing here?"

Alexander hasn't been to a trial in a few years now as it has become nearly impossible for him to get out of the iron lung for a few hours like he used to do when he went to court and represented clients in a wheelchair.

In 2015, a friend of Alexander uploaded a YouTube video of Alexander explaining the issues he was having with his iron lung, hoping it would be seen by a machinist who knew how to repair the respirator. Finally someone connected Alexander with someone kind and skilled enough to help. "I looked for years to find someone who knew how to work on iron lungs," Alexander said. "Brady Richards, it's a miracle that I found him."

Richards runs the Environmental Testing Laboratory, which does rigorous testing to make sure equipment and products meet environmental standards (everything from checking if a TV mount is earthquake proof to checking how an ambulance will handle a T-bone collision). In one of Richard's garages, he keeps his side projects - hot rods, desert race cars, and a small collection of iron lungs and parts. This is where Richards refurbished the current machine that Alexander uses and where he is fixing up another replacement. "When we first brought the tube into the shop, one of my younger employees asked me what I was doing with these smoker grills," Richards said. "And I was like these are not smokers, these are iron lungs. And all my younger guys had no idea what that meant."

Alexander had been in the refurbished model for about a couple months when I first met with him in September. To him, it was like a new skin. "Once you live in an iron lung forever, it seems like, it becomes such a part of your mentality. Like if somebody touches the iron lung - touches it - I can feel that. I can feel the vibration go through the iron lung," he said. "If there's a slight bit of a vibration that occurs as the result of the mechanics - worn out the fan belt or it needs grease or anything like that - it tends to change the breath slightly. Yep, the iron lung's a part of me, I'm afraid."

My worst thought

My final visit was Mona Randolph, 81, who lives with her husband Mark, 63, in Kansas City, Missouri. When I first arrived, a helper was tucking Mona into the machine for the night. They lift Mona into the iron lung using a mechanical arm attached to their ceiling since Mark's back problems prevent him from lifting her into the iron lung, like he used to do when they first met in the '80s.

Mona got polio at the age of 20 in 1956. At the time, she was a skilled pianist planning her wedding. She needed an iron lung for the first year, until she went to rehab in Warm Spring, Georgia, where she was able to wean herself off. But 20 years later, in 1977, she had a series of bronchial infections - possibly due to post-polio syndrome - and her doctors told her she needed to start using an iron lung again. "The 'yellow submarine' is my necessary, trusted, mechanical friend," she told me. "I approach it with relief in store at night and thankfully leave it with relief in the morning."

Mona is covered under Mark's insurance and Medicare, but neither of those help with the iron lung or the caretakers that Mona needs. The Randolphs opted to take full ownership of the iron lung when Respironics was making its big push to offload them. Since then, Mark, a software engineer who has many other engineer skills, and Mona's cousin, a former aircraft mechanic, have maintained and repaired Mona's "yellow submarine". Mark said the medical costs are about the same as a new car every year, "But what would I spend it on if not for Mona."

Mona Randolph spends six nights a week in her iron lung. Photo: Jennings Brown for Gizmodo

When I met with the Randolphs, Mark gave me photocopies of old service manuals and operating instructions. He filled me in on little-known history about the Emerson iron lung and its inventor, whom they met at a Post-Polio convention. I realised what each of these iron lung users have in common are the aid of generous, mechanically skilled friends and family. And that's probably the main reason they have been able to live long and full lives, despite the hardships and anxieties of depending on ageing machinery to survive.

But another thing they all had in common is a desire for the next generations to know about them so we'll realise how fortunate we are to have vaccines. "When children inquire what happened to me, I tell them the nerve wires that tell my muscles what to do were damaged by a virus," Mona said. "And ask them if they have had their vaccine to prevent this. No one has ever argued with me."

Alexander told me that if he had kids he would have made sure they were vaccinated. "Now, my worst thought is that polio's come back," he said. "If there's so many people who've not been - children, especially - have not been vaccinated... I don't even want to think about it."

Lillard is heartbroken when she meets anti-vaccine activists. "Of course, I'm concerned about any place where there's no vaccine," she said. "I think it's criminal that they don't have it for other people and I would just do anything to prevent somebody from having to go through what I have. I mean, my mother, if she had the vaccine available, I would have had it in a heartbeat."

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    Great read. Very interesting to hear about how people cope when their life-saving equipment just isn't made or supported anymore.

    Really great read (though a very sad story of course).

    The virtual eradication of polio (along with smallpox) stands as one of the very greatest examples of human ingenuity and advancement IMO - I don't think the horror of pre-vaccination eras can be properly appreciated by those not around for it (hence the rise of the anti-vax lunatics).

      Was going to post this. The rise in anti-vax rhetoric comes from a world totally divorced from the terrors of polio or smallpox. It's truly terrifying that some people honestly want a return to those days.

        Sigh, It is interesting when you mention anti-vax rhetoric in the comments section about the Polio Vaccine as this has had some unintended consequences as you will read below.
        I am not against vaccines, my own kids were vaccinated. I do think that people should not blindly believe that all vaccines are safe and label anyone who questions vaccine safety or the honesty of big pharma as an anti-vaxxer.

        It seems that today you can not question vaccines, global warming (I mean climate change) or anything else that the MSM want purged.

        This from The SMH:
        "An investigation by The Age has found documents from the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories which reveal bosses there released one batch of about 700,000 doses of contaminated vaccine in 1962 on the grounds that "much vaccine issued in the past was probably similarly contaminated".

        Australia's leading experts on the virus, which is known as simian virus 40 or SV40, have found traces of it in human tumour cells and are calling for urgent funding to clarify the links"
        Some more about the Australian Govt knowingly using a tainted vaccine:

        The Government at the time knew the vaccine was contaminated by a cancer causing monkey virus (That is it causes cancer in monkeys just to be clear).

        From BMC:
        Although it may seem somehow a premature effort, the conviction that SV40 is implicated as a cofactor in the etiology of some human tumors has prompted programs to prepare a vaccine against the main viral oncoprotein, the SV40 Tag .

        The quote above is interesting as the answer to being contaminated by a vaccine is another vaccine.

        Another very interesting article from San Francisco Chronicle:
        But the NCI recently acknowledged that there is evidence to suggest that SV40 "may be associated with human cancer." The NCI statement, released last month, also said that SV40's interaction with "tumor suppressor proteins" indicates "possible mechanisms that could contribute to the development of cancer."

        As the editor of Lancet noted:
        "The case against science is straightforward: much of the
        scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue.
        Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects,
        invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts
        of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing
        fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has
        taken a turn towards darkness. "

        If the Editor in Chief of the Lancet is aware 50% of scientific literature is untrue how can companies like Google and Facebook and the MSM try and filter out and ostracize anyone who questions the validity of vaccines? How long will it before articles such as the one from the Lancet are purged from history altogether? We appear to heading towards a dark time where free speech and questioning the status quo will eradicated.

          That's quite the foil hat you've got.

            "That's quite the foil hat you've got".

            I've posted that the Australian Government (amongst others) knowingly injected 100's of thousands of people with a known tainted vaccine and you are saying I have a tin foil hat? Good grief.
            Did you know it is also passed down from generation to generation? That means it's now not just 100's of thousands.

            I am not sure how that has anything to do with a tin foil hat it is fact.

            I am not saying vaccines don't work and I am not saying that vaccines are not mostly safe. What I Did was point out that a vaccine that is held up on a pedistool as an example of how great vaccines are was also an example of what governments as well as big pharma will do (knowingly).

            I'd be wearing a tin foil hat if I quoted US military documentation showing research funding for a cancer virus..

            As for the quote from the editor of the lancet the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine also wrote "it is no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published...." there is more to that if you care to look it up.

            I'd also like to point out that the editor of the Lancet also mentioned conflicts of interest.... the govt of Australia and big pharma hiding the fact they continued to use a tainted vaccine shows a conflict of interest. By all means continue to look up to paint this as a shining example.

              Sorry but you just sound like a conspiracy theorist here, utterly irrational.

                No, he is quite rational. He is simply pointing out some of the facts. Not ALL vaccines are safe, and not ALL vaccines work. Those are the actual documented facts.

                  Who ever stated that vaccination is 100% safe and effective? I wouldn't even try and argue that out, of coarse its not "completely" safe, surely that's obvious? As we have since worked out, o0o was not against the science. His sources are not "proof" of anything, and it IS irrational to say that any of the stated was "conclusive", when presented with evidence that's anything but actual evidence.
                  As I have said below, NO drug is completely safe, processes in manufacture etc will always evolve, like the science. Rationality in regards to vaccination is to side with the physical evidence. If you ever want science to be 100% sure of something, you're in for a huge fuckin disappointment sorry. Go read up on the second law of thermal dynamics...

              "passing generation to generation". You may not realise it but statements like that ruin any legitimate point you may have had as it betrays a complete lack of understanding of... Well, everything really.

              Modifying DNA (and a genetic modification is required if it's being passed down) is actually kinda hard in a living human. We've had on and off attempts since the 1980s but it's still making headlines when we try it again, like last week for that guy suffering from... Hunters, I think it was. We're very small creatures who know very little, and aren't capable of what you seem to think we are.

              And "possible mechanisms that could contribute to the development of cancer" isn't the damning proof you think it is. For starters, look at the wording. Possible. Could. What they have is a reason for further study, and not proof of anything. They don't even think it's a carcinogen in and of itself, all they have is a possibility that maybe it's affecting our bodies processes for stopping cancer so there's a chance that it could potentially lead to an increase in cancer.

              And that's a whole lot of maybe.

              Lastly, your problem isn't free speech and sticking it to the man. Your problem is that you want astrology to triumph at the expense of astronomy. You don't want free speech, you want vaccines eliminated. There's a difference.

              You can say what you like, you just can't touch our virus eliminating stuff on account of how it eliminates viruses. Which is honestly what you should be upset about. We can eliminate diseases wholesale yet we aren't, in part because of a general lack of knowledge about the world like you're displaying, but mostly because profit. The idea that someone's Ferrari could come at the expense of the lives of thousands of people should upset you.

              But it's the one thing you aren't upset about, because you're too busy taking a hedged bet as a surety.

          You've posted a lot of misguided stuff there. An instance of contaminated vaccine is no argument against vaccination anymore than an instance of contaminated food is an argument against eating food. There's no scientific consensus on the carcinogenic effects of SV40 in humans.

          The comment that was published by the Lancet by Horton, ironically, applies much more to junk articles like the god awful article suggesting a link between MMR vaccine and autism (which they published). It cautions against relying on small studies or researchers trying to fit the data to their hypothesis - often in pursuit of their own agenda - and how it affects real science. All of the high quality, validated studies demonstrate vaccines are safe and immensely beneficial to public and individual health. There's nothing to question, and mainstream media are totally irrelevant.

          I do think that people should not blindly believe
          No they shouldn't, but the above statement is really common sense, and it actually has a solution, go out and learn the subject matter, then you wont be so blind. Unfortunately, you wont get a solid foundation in chemistry and biology by reading newspaper clippings.
          If you don't want to learn the subject matter, that's fine, but google and (the media?) wont help you understand it, and it certainly wont help you find the truth. Studying a science will.
          It seems that today you can not question vaccines, global warming
          No, you're always allowed to question, but a logical requirement of raising a question about the "authenticity" of a given subject is a firm understanding of that subject. How many years have you been studying chemistry/biology?
          Science has nothing to hide from you.

            I did not question biology or chemistry nor did I say vaccines do not work. What I did was point out that one of the greatest examples of vaccine safety and effectiveness was also tainted with a monkey virus.
            If the greatest example showed deceit by our own government and the phatactical industry who is to say other vaccines / studies are not also tainted in some way?

              I did not question biology or chemistry
              Sure, not directly. But your post certainly, although not deliberately sounded "anti" vax, on an article no less, showing us the most obvious and blatantly clear evidence of how a vaccine can work, and save million of lives, it certainly wasn't going to go down "great" was it ;)
              You raised the obvious problems with the early vaccines. This was a very new tech, when have you ever seen humans get any new tech correct instantly, like science, its a progression, like climbing a ladder, test, observe problems, correct them, repeat (the software on your computer was created the same way, even your washing machine). I don't doubt there were screw ups, and I can guarantee there will continue to be screw ups in vaccination creation and supply, I mean, after all, these are systems run by human beings, I'm sorry, but entropy (random) will govern the universe for some time to come, get used to it.
              When faced with a virus, which doesn't discriminate and has no empathy, it is only logically sound to accept a solution with as much "control" (less random) as possible, a vaccine.
              Although I can certainly pin point areas in the vaccination system which are not perfect (you raised a few), its logically pointless to use those errors as a deterrent to vaccination, when faced with the over whelming evidence of its success (if that success is measured in the suffering it saved our populace), to go against that evidence is irrational (I know this wasn't your point).
              Trying to achieve a "better" system of vaccination creation/distribution, through questioning errors made during that process is fine, but it is irrational to use those errors in vaccination creation to cry foul of the science behind it, it wasn't sciences fault mate, science is just a methodology, humans are the ones that fuck it up.
              Science is never at rest, and it is never settled.

                I didn't question the science behind vaccines though you raised some excellent points.

                Oh I just re-read my comment again and by saying who is to say other vaccines are tainted I was definitely questioning something and it would be easy to assume I meant the science.
                The problem lies with the conflicted interests. When the sciencific results are corrupted by vested interests it is our obligation to question and to investigate. It is not just that it was the period of history. A recent example is deiselgate with Volkswagen cars. This type of corruption and lack of regard spans all industries.
                Eisenhower even addressed this in his farewell address. What is not well publicised is his fear of these interests corrupting science something that is definitely happening today.
                It seems that with vaccines if anyone dares raise questions or points out flaws they are branded a heretic to be burned at the stake. That in itself makes me question why such a concerted effort to shape peoples mindsets this way (and yes the media definitely moulds peoples minds).

                Last edited 23/11/17 10:48 am

                  Yes, the greed (and ego...) is a problem. Its something that worries me across all facets of scientific based business. Its one of the main reasons why business and government should be separated by the highest levels of security, and, be under the most intense public scrutiny, because when one controls the other, we are in trouble. There are certainly signs that this has gone past the point of repair in the US, and I'm frightened its basically occurring here in Aus also. Its a problem of humanity itself, and has been recurring ever since we stepped out into the Savannah's.
                  I suppose you have to be careful how we raise this issue. I never want to scare people away from the logically, statistically sound idea of taking a vaccine. But you're very correct, if there are errors, one should never be afraid to bring them to light. That being said paw, we must also make sure we "attack" problems such as Vaccination processes etc in a scientific way, we must make sure we have evidence to support our hypothesis. As a great astrophysicist once said, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". Vaccines and subjects like global warming raise deep emotion mate. They are easy to pick apart because the proof of their existence/effect isnt visually evident, like say a mobile phone, which basically sums the entire scientific knowledge of physics and chemistry into a little box you can hold in your hand, no one seems to question the science behind those ;)

    A fantastic article on a touching subject. I knew polio was crippling but I certainly did not know about this kind of life. Thank you.

    Interesting article. While it is glossed over briefly in the article it would have been worth explaining that these people choose to live in the iron lung rather than use the more effective and portable ventilators or tracheal intubation. The comments about them not working as well and causing inflammation aren't really true, and the benefits they give in terms of quality of life and mobility vastly outweigh these. The whole tone of the patients saying without the iron lung or its aging parts they will die is hyperbole in the extreme. People are on forced ventilators all the time, both in hospital (eg during surgery) and in the home environment.

      Why do you feel the need to dispute their experiences?

      The risks of long-term mechanical ventilation are very well-documented, and polio survivors have even more reason than you or I to be concerned about further lung damage or pneumonia. (And we're talking about people who have been reliant on these devices for 50 or more years - much longer than the normal clinical usage of other ventilators, I would think.)

      Don't discount the role of trauma in their concern as well - that can lead survivors of many serious illnesses or injuries to be unwilling to change treatments even when there are good reasons to do so.

      It's also very much possible - this being the US - that they can't afford anything else. Being able to afford a couple of thousand dollars per year on parts is not the same as being able to afford full replacement of a $25,000+ item.

    That was absolutely fascinating!

    Just a minor thing- You very briefly mentioned some machines that replaced iron lungs.It would have been better if a little more info was included on those

      Yes, and why these people are choosing not to go that route. I think that's an interesting topic right there.

    First Giz article that has brought me to tears.
    Have a 6 month old daughter and this hit too close to home.
    Thank You for educating a Polio ignorant fool.

    Ball-tearingly good work Mr Brown. I hope it gets syndicated far & wide.

    That phrase "And that whole dark room just sounded like a big room full of chickens just cluck-cluck-clucking. All the nurses were saying, 'Just a second, you'll be breathing in just a second.'" is one of the most haunting things I have ever read.

    My mother nursed polio victims in the 50s & 60s and her recollections of kids struggling for breath, or in full plaster casts or rigged up to various stretching devices to prevent skeletal deformities still make her sob.

    great article. it should be required reading for all Anti-Vaxers. They should also be forced to watch a video of a baby struggling to breath due to Whooping cough or meet a child with brain damage after getting measles.

    THIS. This is why when anti-vaxxers (or any other peddler of bullshit) start spouting anti-truths, we don't politely let them air their delusions, or give their opinions equal airtime or other such privilege - we shoot down that bullshit immediately and without hesitation. We tell them, in no uncertain terms, to shut their idiot cake-holes. That's what an intelligent society does.

    "It would be like if you bought a used car, you drove it a block and the car stopped working. Then you go back to the car dealer and you say, 'Hey, the car stopped working.' And they say, 'Well too bad, you bought it and that's the way life goes.' Except instead of a car it's a machine that you need to live."
    This is misleading.
    It would be like if you bought a used car in the 1950s and it stopped working, and the dealer refused to fix it. And there's a good chance that would actually happen with a car as well.
    A business exists to make money, and manufacturing parts for a machine that's almost extinct is costly and therefore pointless. Like with an old car, you find someone who can work on it.
    And yes, the (only) difference is that this machine keeps her alive.
    I'm sympathetic. It's a shame. But lets not mince words to insinuate that Philips want her to die.

      The car analogy is bad as well because you won't die without a car. You don't need a major surgical procedure to replace the car either. The car isn't breathing for you, or ensuring that you can hear. You have a lot of options to choose from, not just the one or two that are effective for you. They're not even close.

      The reason people are so concerned though is because there are a *lot* of people who are reliant on medical tech to go about their lives or stay alive. People with electric wheelchairs, CPAP machines, pacemakers, cochlear implants, insulin pumps, and so on, can all potentially end up in the same position as these polio survivors, and many already do. They have no choice but to use this technology, and manufacturers know it.

      Many of them have watched as devices become obsolete and unusable or unfixable faster and faster, and it scares them. They are often not people who have the money to cover new devices (and sometimes, the surgery required to replace them) on a regular basis. In some cases as well, newer devices don't exist for them, or aren't suitable. Or, the loss of mobility or the risk of further illness caused by replacement is unacceptable. (And, this being the US, the expenses are beyond all joke - though people in a similar position elsewhere also often struggle with costs, as do public health systems. And that has generated its own serious political and social issues.)

      A lot of disabled people who are reliant on assistive or medical technology desperately want some kind of legislation or other serious effort to hold manufacturers responsible when they abandon devices or technologies and leave those reliant on them hanging or force them to use devices that don't suit their needs or aren't as effective.

    One can only sympathise. It gives me a better idea of what they were trying to avoid when they lined all us kids up so long ago and gave us the jab.

    Clearly, the deal that we pay a certain amount up front to try and eliminate polio globally was a good idea.

    Of course some Muslims, like Boko Haram, disagree. Since we certainly can't force all the Muslims of the world to obey us, perhaps it's time we gave up our futile efforts and just stuck to vaccinating ourselves.

      Congratualtions, You took what was a great article and injected your own xenophobia into it.

    Someone has some anger issues there. Anyone that disagrees is an idiot? What we should do is allow them time to put their own foot in their mouth and then politely point out using facts (and not anger or abuse as you have sprouted) where they are wrong.
    If this is where society is heading in that free speech is derided and ridiculed then the future will be very dark

      Lol..... the old if you disagree with me you're against free speech chestnut. Just as you are free to say what you want, we are free to reply how we like.

        Where did I say if you disagree with me that I an against free speech? I simply said "then politely point out using facts (and not anger or abuse as you have sprouted) where they are wrong".
        Your quite welcome to reply in any manner in which you see fit. It is just a shame that it is normal with this subject that often people reply with venom that attacks the person rather than the facts that have been mentioned.

      Free speech does not make you exempt from reply bud. Free speech gives them the right to call you an idiot.

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