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Upper Eden Rotary Club in Africa

The Rotary Iron Lung
Press Releases

2017 February. Rotary Digest

This video of Roger was posted on YouTube by the Rotary Digest team. It contains archive footage of iron lungs in action (hopefully from a bygone age) and is a good indicator of why Roger was motivated to build a replica iron lung to raise funds towards the eradication of polio.

2017. February. The Rotarian

Reproduced from The Rotarian February 2017 (Download pdf)

A Replica Iron Lung Teaches A New Generation About Polio

Dispatched to Ghana with a fellow British Rotarian to scout club service opportunities, Roger Frank hadn’t planned their visit to coincide with National Immunization Days, but the pair – Frank and Dr. Carl Hallam – jumped, unhesitating, into the thick of inoculations. During a four-day stretch in October 2015, nearly 2,000 children in the area were protected from poliomyelitis. The effort galvanized Frank, who brainstormed for a way to do even more at home: How could he promote polio eradication when few of his countrymen gave much thought to the scourge?

rotary iron lung

Recalling the fear that gripped the UK, the U.S., and elsewhere during the height of the polio epidemic in the early 1950s, Frank, a past president of the Rotary Club of Upper Eden, thought of the iron lung, a device largely relegated to museums and history books. The lifesaving mechanical respirator was a potent, if depressing, symbol of the debilitating disease. An iron lung, Frank reasoned, would educate younger generations who grew up free of the fear created by polio, a virus that is spread easily, during the 20th century.

He hoped to borrow a model to put on tour to serve as a reminder that the polio fight remains unfinished. “I spent the last three months of 2015 looking for an iron lung in hospitals, etc., ” says Frank, 65. “I had hoped to source an original unit, but they have all been scrapped and those that remain are in museums, and they would not part with them. Being fully committed to the project, I had no other option than to build an iron lung myself. “This proved quite a challenge, ” even for a retired mechanical engineer and self described “nut and bolt man, ” particularly after he resolved that only a fully functioning machine would do.

rotary iron lung rotary iron lung rotary iron lung

“I learned many years ago that the dafter the project, the easier it is to get good publicity for the cause, ” he quips. Using the outline dimensions of a unit in the Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds as a reference, Frank rolled and welded steel for a cylindrical main chamber, fabricated tracks for a mattress that slides into and out of the unit, and cut access doors and windows. “I cajoled various local companies into assisting with the project, ” he says, particularly painting the unit and a trailer used to transport it; Upper Eden club members also assisted. “I suppose in some ways people are used to my harebrained ideas, and not one of them declined to support the project, ” he adds. Frank, who bore most of the construction costs, concedes that most of the 650 hours he spent over four months on the heavy metal labor of love were devoted to the trailer, itself a showcase worthy of a Rolls- Royce Phantom.

“To finish the job, he then created visual displays to fit into and onto the trailer, including a television program of iron lungs being used ‘for real,’ ” notes Ben Lyon, the club’s immediate past president. “The finished result is a stunning promotional and educational tool in aid of polio eradication. ” Onsite, a computer-controlled sequence activates the lung, in thumps and whooshes, for five minutes before triggering a YouTube video about iron lungs.

For many polio patients, the apparatus was crucial to surviving the disease’s early stages, when their muscles were too weak, or paralyzed, for independent breathing. The lifesaving mechanical respirators were a common sight, lined up in rows at hospitals. The stricken, mostly young children, were confined in the chambers, normally for at least two or three weeks, exposed only from the neck up, with mirrors above their heads providing their only glimpse into the world around them amid the machines’ cacophony. “As a static exhibit the lung is lifeless and really comes alive when the motor starts and the end bellow operates. I think it really helps give people an understanding of how it would be to be locked in it, ” Frank says. “Also the drive unit, or mechanism, is quite noisy and adds to the atmosphere, just as the original units did. ”

Frank, who notes that his replica has been booked for the Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland conference in April, makes the display available to Rotary clubs that agree to arrange transportation and staff it to raise funds and awareness for End Polio Now. It has been deployed to agricultural shows and schools, with area club members staffing the unit.

“Most people, especially young ones, are totally dumbfounded by the whole spectacle, and after watching the video are mesmerized and stand motionless for quite a few seconds, ” says Frank, “I suppose in awe, or taking in how somebody could spend [nearly] their entire life in such a machine. ” On occasion, a “lucky ” visitor might be invited inside the lung. Sara Dumbell, a journalist with BBC Radio Cumbria who reported on the project, says: “I get sent on many exciting jobs, but getting to see a real life-size replica iron lung was a first for me. The iron lung itself was hugely impressive. I’m 28, and so the major UK outbreaks of polio were a little before my time, but it was deeply moving to learn about how so many children across the world were forced to live in these machines. “I couldn’t leave without trying out the iron lung for myself, but having the metal lung separating your head and body at the neck I found to be the most uncomfortable feeling, ” she adds. “I must admit I was quite relieved when I was allowed out. ” With a nod to the red End Polio Now donation buckets at the ready, Frank says, “I kid people that it is £1 to get into the unit and £50 for me to let you out.”

2017 January 7th. Westmorland Herald

Reproduced from the Westmorland Herald 7th January 2017 (Download pdf)

Feat of Engineering To Highlight Push On Polio

Upper Eden Rotary Club’s Roger Frank has tackled an unusual project, aimed at keeping the eradication of polio at the forefront of people’s minds. Roger, aged 65, of Raisbeck, near Orton, has built a working “iron lung” from scratch, which is housed in a display trailer that has also been custom built. Through this ambitious project, he aims to raise awareness of the highly infectious disease which still claims victims in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. Last year 74 cases of poliomyelitis (polio) were recorded — but Rotary International wants to cut that number to zero.

rotary iron lung

Polio was rife in the UK in the 1940s and 50s, until a vaccine was developed in America, virtually wiping out new cases. The disease attacks the body’s nervous system and victims become paralysed as it affects their arms and legs. In severe cases, when lungs are also affected, patients can be put in a mechanical respirator, known as an iron lung, which does their breathing for them. Rows of iron lungs filled hospital wards at the height of the polio outbreaks of the 1940s and 1950s, helping children and adults with polio to breathe.

The machine which Roger has built is an exact working replica of an iron lung which would have been used at the height of the epidemic in Britain. Lord Nuffield, of Morris Cars, donated 5,000 units to the country in the 1940s, but very few now survive — so Roger decided to build one of his own to show people, as part of a mobile exhibition. This is taken to agricultural shows and similar events, and includes a five-minute DVD presentation telling the story of a woman who was still living in an iron lung in 2008. Roger, who was chief executive and former owner of Mass Transfer International Limited, said he had tried to acquire an iron lung from a hospital, but found that they had now all been scrapped.

Nor was he able to borrow one from a museum, although several are on display at centres including the Science Museum, in London, and the Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds. “The only other option was to build one,” said Roger, who worked up his design from a photograph taken at the Leeds museum and then spent 650 hours building it. “Why I built it was to increase awareness and let people know that the disease is still about. Smallpox is the first infectious disease to be wiped out — and we want to do the same with polio,” he said. He was supported in the project by Braithwaite’s Garage, Newbiggin, Stainton; Houghton-Parkhouse Limited, Milnthorpe; Rodney Wharton, who lives near Appleby; Ian Dinsdale, of Appleby; J. N. & E. Capstick, Kirkby Stephen; Nu-Style builders, Gaisgill; David Garrick; Lyon Equipment, Tebay; David Hayton Limited; Dodd and Co; Udale Limited; John Cook Signs, Carlisle; and Capstick Carpets.

When Rotary International started on its “end polio mission” in 1985, more than 350,000 children were paralysed every year by the deadly virus. By 2015, the number had dropped to 74 — but campaigners were devastated to learn in September that there had been an outbreak in Nigeria, with four cases having been recorded. It is estimated that at least another four years of immunisation — at an estimated cost of £5 billion — is required to rid the world of polio. Over the last 30 years, a total of 2.5 billion children have been immunised, thanks to Rotary’s involvement. For many campaigning Rotarians around the world, the best possible future Christmas present would be news that they had helped wipe out polio, once and for all. For more information, or to book the iron lung for an event, e-mail Roger Frank at crogerfrank@ or visit the Upper Eden Rotary Club webpage.

2016 August 25th. Westmorland Gazette

Reproduced from the Westmorland Gazette Aug 25th 2016 (Download pdf)

Roger Makes His Own Iron Lung

An Eden Valley Rotary Club member has built an old-fashioned piece of life-saving equipment in a bid to promote the eradication of an often fatal disease. Rotary International has invested £600 million over the last 31 years trying to wipe out polio across the world – and has seen case  numbers vastly reduced.

Polio is a highly infectious viral disease which mainly affects young children. In the most severe cases it attacks the body’s nervous system. When Rotary launched  its campaign in 1985, more than  350,000 children in 125 countries were paralysed by  the deadly disease every year. In 2015 there were just 74 cases, all in Afghanistan  and Pakistan. Now Roger Frank, a member of Upper Eden Rotary, has spent 650 hours building an iron lung – the machines which were used to help sufferers breathe – from scratch as part of one  last push to rid the world of polio once and for all.

“Polio was rife in the UK in the 40s and 50s – swimming pools were shut because of it and all sorts of things were going on,” said Mr Frank, 65, of Raisbeck, near Orton. “It’s a virus and they didn’t have a serum developed  then and there were lots of cases.  “People became paralysed as the virus affected  the arms and legs. In a severe case it affected the lungs in which case a patient was put in a mechanical respirator (the iron lung) which did their breathing for hem.”

After many unsuccessful attempts to borrow an  iron lung from museum displays and hospitals, Mr Frank decided to build one himself, scouring the country high and wide for components to put the monster machine together. He now takes it to various events to highlight the importance of continuing the fight against the illness. “It’s horrific to think this is what went on,” he said.  “People often spent years – and sometimes the rest of  their life – in these things not being able to even scratch their own nose – and people have forgotten about it. It shouldn’t be forgotten. “I want to try and educate  people and make them aware polio is still about in the world and to try and  eradicate it.”

2016 August. BBC Radio Cumbria

This video was produced by Sara Dumbell, BBC Radio Cumbria.