Sitting in front of the newly restored iron lung, Deloris Waddington remembers what it was like to see her 5–year–old brother inside the machine. "My brother was in the iron lung in 1949 with polio," said Waddington." "I remember he got very sick and they didn't think he was going to make it."
Back in 1938, "President's Balls" and the efforts of American Legion Posts raised enough money to buy an iron lung for St. Joseph's Hospital in Deadwood. "It was an expensive purchase – very new technology, very sophisticated technology, and it also had to be brought here," said Sherry Bea Smith, the executive director at Lead-Deadwood General Hospital.
But after the demolition of St. Joseph's Hospital, the machine was left to deteriorate in a scrap metal yard until Larry David found it and restored it. The machine sits at the now Lead-Deadwood Hospital, the same location where it was plugged in for the first time nearly 75 years ago. Smith says it's on display so people can appreciate history. "We need to remember what contributions were made to health care in decades past so we can set a foundation to make sure we support ongoing technology," said Smith.
The machine did run on electricity, but when patients needed to be transported from one hospital to another, people actually had to crank a handle in order to keep it running. This happened to Vera Junek, the first polio victim inside this specific iron lung."They would have to stop episodically and plug in to give the family a break because I can't imagine cranking this thing was very easy," said Smith.
While it was certainly not easy, and patients undoubtedly had a tough time being in the iron lung for months, this machine saved countless lives in Western South Dakota. "If they hadn't had the iron lung, he wouldn't be here," said Deloris Waddington, of her brother.
The ambulance crew at the Lead-Deadwood Regional Hospital is hosting an open-house this Saturday with a variety of free events, including a chance to see the iron lung up close.