One case of innovation at the Montreal Children’s Hospital was inspired by a terrible polio epidemic in 1932.
During the epidemic, a revolutionary machine called the Iron Lung was being used in the U.S. to treat patients with respiratory complications.
No such equipment was available in Montreal at the time, so Dr. Howard Mitchell, the general superintendent of the Children’s (then called the Children’s Memorial Hospital), and Tom Wright, the hospital carpenter, took matters into their own hands…literally.
They constructed a home-made respirator made out of wood.
It ended up being so effective that the Nuffield Foundation in England adopted the design and shipped it around the world.
Since then, the field of respiratory medicine has grown exponentially: non-invasive ventilators were introduced in the 1980s, and in the 1990s high-frequency ventilators began to have an impact on newborn medicine, allowing precise control of the amount of air provided to newborn lungs.
The story of the home-made respirator is similar to another intriguing story out of the Lachine Hospital, or St. Joseph’s Hospital as it was called at the time.
In roughly 1924-1925 a premature six-month-old baby was born, but given no chance of survival by the attending physician.
A nurse by the name of Nurse Amour sprang into action and used her ingenuity to create a homemade incubator out of an empty beer bottle, heated oil, copper wires, wood boxes, sheets and a bed frame all placed on top of a stove.
Her efforts paid off – the baby survived!