Remember polio?

Woman dies after life spent in iron lung.

Odell was afflicted with “bulbo-spinal” polio three years before a polio vaccine was discovered and largely stopped the spread of the crippling childhood disease.

Her care was provided by her parents, other family members and aides provided by a nonprofit foundation.

“Dianne was one of the kindest and most considerate people you could meet. She was always concerned about others and their well-being,” said Frank McMeen, president of the West Tennessee Health Care Foundation, which helped raise money for equipment and nursing assistance for Odell.

Odell accepted her life with grace, McMeen said.

“Everyone she encountered came to her because they cared about her,” he said, “so she grew up in her 61 years thinking every person is good.”

Odell’s iron lung, similar to those used during the U.S. polio epidemics that peaked in the 1950s, was a cylindrical chamber with a seal at the neck. She lay on her back with only her head exposed and made eye contact with visitors through an angled mirror. She operated a television set with a small blow tube and wrote on a voice-activated computer.

The positive and negative pressures produced by the machine forced air into her lungs and then expelled it.

Iron lungs were largely replaced by positive-pressure airway ventilators in the late 1950s that give users much more freedom of movement. But a spinal deformity from the polio kept Odell from wearing a more modern portable breathing device.

Joan Headley of Post-Polio Health International in St. Louis said that about 30 people in the United States still rely on iron lungs but that few users are confined to them all the time. No one keeps records, she said, on the longest confinement.

RIP. If these good folks have their way, nobody will ever have to share her fate.

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One Response

  1. Thanks for this article – it is a great reminder what vaccinations have done for our society and what could happen without them. No child should have to go through this.

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