Ventilators have been the most talked about medical devices during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ventilators are machines used by doctors and hospitals to help patients breathe by making the lungs inhale and exhale air.
These machines are used to help people who have illnesses that stop them from breathing easily. Some of these illnesses are pneumonia (an infection that fills the lungs with fluid), brain injury (the brain is hurt and sends out the wrong signals to the lungs or no signals at all), and stroke (blood stops going to part of the brain and stops the brain from getting oxygen). COVID-19 also makes it hard for people to breathe.
We can thank Dr. Forrest Bird for inventing the ventilator. He was a pilot who was curious about breathing problems during World War II (75-80 years ago) and looked at pilots who had a hard time breathing when they were flying high in the air. He made ventilators for
air pilots but also wanted to find ways to help people who were not pilots. In the 1950s and 1960s (60-70 years ago), Dr. Bird made some of the first ventilators for people with heart and lung problems. His ventilator made it so that people did not need to use an iron lung.
An iron lung was a hard case that fit over the body of a person whose chest muscles or diaphragm (the thin, dome-shaped muscle that helps us breathe and separates the lungs from the stomach and intestines) were too weak or could not move on their own. The iron lung worked by imitating the way the body's chest muscles and diaphragm moved air in and out of the lungs. A person had to lie inside of the iron lung for about two weeks at a time for the muscles to get stronger so that their lungs would work correctly.
Dr. Bird made the ventilator smaller and lighter than the iron lung so that it would be portable, which means it could be easily carried or moved around instead of a person having to lie inside of an iron lung. He also made the first pediatric respirator, known as the Baby Bird, that helps babies with breathing problems.
Dr. Bird was inducted (taken in as a member) into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1995 and received the Presidential Citizens Medal from President George W. Bush in 2008 and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Barack Obama in 2009 for inventions that helped so many people.