What is a Ventilator?
A ventilator is a mechanical device to assist a person’s breathing when they're unable to inhale and exhale adequately on their own. Ventilators take over breathing requirements by forcing air into and out of the lungs. At their most basic, they can simply be a tube inserted into the airway and a flexible bag that pushes air into the patient's respiratory tract when squeezed. The most advanced versions are highly sophisticated electronic devices that can monitor and automatically support lung function.
A ventilator mechanically pushes low pressure air into patient’s lungs, then facilitates easy exhalation. Ventilators may also add extra oxygen to the air being pushed into patient’s lungs, thus enhancing the amount available for the patient’s body. Air pressure must be low to prevent lung rupture.
Ventilators provide this air at high volume in timed intervals to simulate breathing rhythms, thus providing patient with essential respiration. Some use a mechanical bellows to provide pressurized air, while other designs utilize a rotating fan. Controls can be simple mechanical devices or sophisticated electronic controls.
Hospital and Medevac Use
Ventilators used in hospitals may have multiple electronic sensors and controls to fine-tune the exact parameters necessary for each individual patient. These parameters can be adjusted by the respiratory therapist according to established standards. Ambulances and medical transport aircraft can be equipped with ventilators to keep patients alive while they're transported to a treatment facility.
Ventilators are in short supply due to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic sweeping around the world, and manufacturers are struggling to meet the surging demand. World conflicts and politics are complicating their response, as each region tries to secure its own people against the worst effects of the virus.
Garage tinkerers and inventors are stepping into the brink to ease the supply crisis. There are multiple new concepts and iterations of ventilators being constructed by these tinkerers and inventors in an attempt to help meet the need.
Do Ventilator Save Lives?
Many lives are being saved by the use of ventilators, as they supply crucial oxygen when a patient's ability to breathe has been compromised. When the patient has recovered sufficiently to breathe on their own, they are gradually weaned away from the ventilator.
This writer is proof that ventilators work! Late October of 2017 I was taken to a small local hospital ER with difficulty breathing. I was admitted and everyone thought I was improving. Less than 24 hours later I suddenly lost ability to breathe, so I was intubated and “bagged.” The respiratory therapist squeezed an AMBU bag (Artificial Manual Breathing Unit) to provide me with forced air.
Our local hospital didn't have a ventilator due to its small size. The combination of respiratory and heart (CPR) continued for about two hours, until a Medevac chopper with a ventilator could be arranged and deployed to transport me to larger regional hospital. I was on a ventilator in Cardiac ICU for nearly four days. Now, approximately two and a half years later I have achieved remarkably good recovery and am able to do physical labor again.
Whether relatively simple or highly advanced, these life saving machines continue to provide incredibly valuable service in health care settings around the world.