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Smith-Clarke "Senior" cabinet respirator (Alligator model) (Coventry type) iron lung, large size.

Production date
Production place
Production organisations
Cape Engineering Company
Iron lungs were developed to counteract the effects of polio on a patient’s movement and breathing. Polio cannot be cured, so treatments can only manage the conditions caused by the disease. Iron lungs work by sucking air out of the chamber and forcing it back in, making the patient's chest move up and down, enabling them to breathe.
Joan Copley from Bradford spent 4-6 weeks in an iron lung like this in 1950. She volunteered to let us capture her story through an interview in September 2022 - the full transcript is attached to this record. Her memories include:

"All I can remember was that it was warm. They put this rubber collar round your neck so that it seals it, and it smells of rubber… it’s awful. They way they looked after you – the little holes at the side that they used… I can’t remember what they did toilet-wise, but I think they had to change me. I didn’t have any real food – they only fed me liquid paraffin, Lucozade and Wall’s ice cream.

"You could feel it as well – you could feel the pressure. You could feel it sort of pressing on your chest – you felt it go down, like that, and then back, all the time. I would say it was quite noisy – to me it was. I know I just – when I came out of there, I used to say ‘don’t put that collar on me’.

"I remember [that] when they started to take me out, they would put a watch hanging from the mirror or something above my head, and they would say ‘You’re coming out when this hand gets to 2 o’clock’. They would take you out for 30 seconds, [then longer every day after that]."
Robin Cooper, a prosthetist and branch manager at Steeper from 1966 to 2008, responsible for Research and Development from the mid-1980s, recalled working with iron lung users:

"When I was in the Prosthetics department in the late 1960s I was responsible for casting such [polio] patents to make them a Cuirass. This was a plastic shell with a neoprene seal rather like a tortoise shell and fitted to the user's chest and was connected to an air pump held in a back pack. A control unit caused the space between cuirass and chest to expand and contract. This allowed the user a good degree of mobility. It was, however, a bit noisy. I think this was [at] a clinic at St Thomas's [Hospital, London]."

Part 113.001

6007: Ward equipment
Object Name:
iron lung
On Display