Chapter: Challenges and Hardships

Iron Lung

"Designed for more independent living"
1966 iron lung - respirator for 1940s & 1950s polio cases Iron lung


People with disabilities have often been institutionalized and isolated from their own communities and families throughout Manitoba’s history. They have faced and continue to face discrimination in many different forms. This respirator, often called an iron lung, helped to ensure that would not happen to David Steen and that he would be able to keep his independence and dignity.

Polio had a devastating effect across all of Canada, but no province was hit as hard as Manitoba. On a per capita bases Manitobans experienced far higher infection and death rates than the rest of the nation.

The invention of the iron lung would greatly help in the treatment of the disease and save countless lives. The machine allowed patients to breath by creating negative pressure in the chamber causing the lungs to expand with air, when the pressure returned to normal the air is released. The majority of patients would spend one to two weeks inside the iron lung but in some cases, it was used for decades.

This machine was unique because it had been modified by the Rehab Engineering Department at the Health Sciences Centre to allow David to lock and unlock the machine from within. The modification allowed him to increase his independence and live alone in the country without further reliance on others for support. Assistive technology like this continues to support polio survivors and others seeking to live independently.

See also Polio Doll