Building ventilators

Don Miller explains how he has been helping with the need for ventilators.

My wife and I were enjoying a relaxing holiday visiting my daughter’s family, when an old GP friend popped in to see me and remembered the work I had done many years ago. He made a few phone calls and got me involved with a scientific group in Western Australia who were commissioned to meet the pending need relating to Covid-19 infections.

I had designed and manufactured a ventilator more than 25 years ago in South Africa that was specifically designed for use in anaesthesia to cope with patients suffering from respiratory failure. It is small, compact and battery powered too for transportation purposes. It was very simple in structure with one moving part only, but sophisticated ventilation modes suitable for SARS. Here is a picture of it below. I still have this working sample back in the UK. When I was in South Africa, I have used it on neonates below 1 Kg and adults of 100Kg in respiratory failure with improved oxygenation, out performing the Siemens 900C ICU ventilator. It should have been continued but because of corruption in South Africa and bribes needed to sell to the state, the firm decided to stop manufacture. It was so simple, we could have ramped up production to meet a high demand, but the engineer with whom I did this with, in now in Perth, WA. I spoke with him the other day and he rightly pointed out that by the time we got it up and running again (about 3 months), the crisis would be over and the capital expenditure would never be recovered. This engineer friend found all the drawings needed to manufacture on his hard-drive. The chief scientist in WA offered us $15000 to make a prototype for the local market to treat SARS CoV2.

At the same time, my previous boss is one of the world authorities in South Africa in the treatment of SARS, contacted me and asked me to produce them again to meet the need in South Africa. This is now happening there too. You can listen to the radio interview here
Engineers in Canada and in Scotland have also asked for the know how to be passed on for them to consider manufacturing these ventilators.

My old supervisor for my PhD, also contacted me about my ventilator and CPAP machines. He works for MRC in S Africa, and he passed on an idea I had for a simple way to provide quality Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) (ventilation mode before patients need to be intubated) for 10 patients at the same time. I am now acting as an advisor to a group who are putting this into practise now in South Africa. It has turned out to be a busier holiday than I had planned or expected but very stimulating!

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