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Guest Blog – John C. Weissleder, MPA, RRT, NP/S
Curator of the Antique Respiratory Archives at Westchester Medical Center, Valhalla, NY


Have you ever been to a medical museum? Not many people have, but Baltimore MD is home to a Dentistry Museum that highlights, among other things the history of the dental chair in a vertical multi story display where beautifully restored 150 year old dental chairs are suspended from the ceiling. Dentists are proud of their history and have a lot of their history to show from early tooth brushes to the grand chairs themselves. Surgeons, anesthesiologists and many other branches of medicine have museums dedicated to their great history as well, so years ago, in the early 80’s, it occurred to me that our Respiratory Therapy profession’s history was vastly underappreciated and not being saved. In fact, it was being discarded by hospitals all the time as they searched more space for other things. While working at St. Luke’s Hospital in NY City, Steve, the educational coordinator for my respiratory care department, salvaged an old piece of medical history (an old Bird Mark 7) literally from the trash and triumphantly proclaimed, “Saved From the Jaws of Indifference”. From that moment on, I knew our valuable Respiratory Therapy history needed to be stored, and saved until one day, a permanent home for the collection could be established to display it properly.

Thus began my search and over the next few decades, I managed to acquire many of the key items that have made our field unique. I must say that I could not have done this without the help of many individual’s over the years who are too numerous to mention but one particular person stands out. Dennis Glover, RRT from Brooklyn, NY. He was a collector long before I was one who managed to collect many items and today, many of my best items are donations from Dennis, and are items that will show future generations of RT’s our rich history. Westchester Medical Center has to be thanked for providing a home for the collection and I want to thank Bob Miglino RRT for periodically providing funds that have helped preserve the collection and allowed me to occasionally purchase a piece or two when purchasing was necessary to acquire an interesting piece. Of course, I want to also thank Bob for giving the collection such an outstanding forum for showing the collection each year – the annual FOCUS conference where over 30,000 people over the years have now seen and marveled at the exhibit.

So what makes up this fascinating exhibit? Well, amongst other things, the collection includes a working Emerson Iron Lung that never fails to fascinate, a Muller/Morsch Piston Ventilator from 1950 (it was the first positive pressure ventilator and it slid under the patients bed), a little Timeter Ventilator from the 60’s, helium/oxygen regulators from the 1930’s, three different styles of accordion Ambu Bags, metal nasal cannulas, 1940’s BLB masks, regulators, flow meters, humidifiers that have glass bottles, prototype IPPB devices from Dr. Al Barrach (the father of the oxygen tent) and much, much more. Among my favorite display items and huge crowd pleasers are the LUNGMOTOR AND PULMOTOR. These positive pressure mask devices predated our field (circa; 1908) but were the positive pressure ventilation devices that saved countless lives long before the Iron Lung came to be widely accepted. Despite their success out in the field, hospitals and doctors rejected them according to legend saying, “Why would we want to ventilate someone who can no longer breathe on their own”?

The collection also stands as testimony to the many geniuses our field has given to the world. Dr. Forrest Bird, Jack Emerson and Vivian Ray Bennett, (yes, the V. stood for Vivian) inventor of the Bennett valve. Many of their earliest items are also in the collection.

I would urge all RT’s to seek out and secure, for future generations, all pre-1970 respiratory devices and get them to a safe place. Perhaps you have an empty showcase in the lobby of your hospital? These items make for interesting public displays and good promotion for our field which seems to transform itself completely every decade of so.

So remember, the traditional definition of an “antique” is 100 years. The definition of an antique medical device is much, much shorter. 50 years? 25 years?…you be the judge.

Remember that an amazing and very unique aspect of the annual FOCUS conferences is this antique respiratory equipment exhibit, a collection of everything used in the profession for the last 100 years – and I can tell you that there is absolutely NO collection like it anywhere in the world. Come on down to the conference and come visit me in the large space dedicated to this in the FOCUS exhibit hall. I’ll be on hand personally to show you the collection, show you how things worked back in the day and to answer all of your questions. I guaranteed two things, you will love the conference and you will be amazed by our antique exhibit.

Bob’s note – Come see this fascinating exhibit of over 1000 pieces that in and of themselves, are a journey back in medical history. That’s FOCUS Spring – May 15-17, 2014 at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando Florida. For complete information and/or to register, visit www.Foocus.com

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