Only Three Iron Lungs are Still in Use in the United States

Only Three Iron Lungs are Still in Use in the United States


What was once a tool to help patients with breathing difficulties is now nearly extinct. Mona Randolph, 82, of Missouri uses one of the last three remaining iron lungs in the country. 

The iron lung is a large tank respirator that was most commonly used to assist polio patients with breathing when the virus paralyzed muscle groups in their chests. However, with the progression of medicine, including vaccines that have helped to all but eradicate the virus in the United States, the iron lung has become little more than a piece of medical history. 

Mona, a post-polio patient, and former piano player, uses a CPAP machine during the daytime but finds it uncomfortable. When it comes to getting rest, she prefers the iron lung. Once primarily found in hospitals, the 700-pound machine is expensive to run and maintain. However, Mona opted to buy the machine despite her medical insurance not covering it or the necessary maintenance and repairs that are required. 

Her husband, Mark, told Fox News that the costs are equivalent to purchasing a new car annually but it is a price that he is comfortable with if it means that his wife can continue with her current quality of life. Mark, a software engineer, and another family member, a former aircraft mechanic, are the ones who do the repairs on the large respirator when needed. 

“The ‘yellow submarine’ is my necessary trusted, mechanical friend. I approach it with relief in store at night and thankfully leave it with relief in the morning.”

- Mona Randolph via Gizmodo 

Mark helps her get into the iron lung each evening using a sling to hoist Mona into the machine. She uses it six nights per week and attributes her long life to the lifesaving machine. The mechanical piece of history still has some good left to do.

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Catherine Marucci
Catherine Marucci

A dedicated writer of health, technology, and internet phenomenon news.

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