Meet the woman who has been sleeping in this machine for the last 36 years
82-year-old Mona Randolph, of Kansas City, Missouri, is one of the few people left in the United States who has to use the iron lung machine.
Randolph was just 20 years old when she contracted polio, a disease that attacks the spinal chord, causing paralysis and, sometimes, death. While the polio vaccine had been approved in 1955 - the year before Randolph contracted it - she wasn't fortunate enough to get it in time due to the fact that adults were considered to be at lower risk than children.
For Randolph, the symptoms started with nothing more than a headache, before she had a fever and became sensitive to sound and light. “I couldn’t stand to hear people talking in the kitchen. They’d whisper and it would hurt my ears. I couldn’t stand any light,” Randolph told the Kansas City Star, which was the first news outlet to report her story.
After spending a few days being sick, Randolph was taken to a hospital in Kansas City. Doctors immediately put her on an iron lung, a large mechanical respirator that uses negative air pressure to push air in and out of the lungs in patients who can’t breathe without assistance. The contraption was commonplace at the time but is rarely used in the present day.
Speaking to BuzzFeed News, Brian Tiburzi, executive director of Post-Polio Health International, estimates that between "three and five" iron lungs are still being used in the US.
For Randolph, while she survived polio, her left arm was paralysed and she became dependent on family and friends for help. Sadly, despite coming off of the iron lung, Randolph developed post-polio syndrome in the 1980s - a condition that is characterised by the weakening of the muscles that can happen years after recovery from polio.
Due to the fact that it took an incredible amount of effort to breathe, Randolph opted to begin using the iron lung again.
The 82-year-old spends her nights in the respirator, which moves her lungs so that she can breathe. In the daytime, she uses a much simpler machine.
The iron lung is an airtight, six-foot-long metal tube that covers Randolph's entire body up to her neck. According to the Star, Randolph calls it her Yellow Submarine and, despite the fact that it is incredibly loud once it has been switched on, it is the only way she is able to sleep at night. She has been using it for the past 36 years.
The machine was developed in the 1920s and was aimed at helping patients breathe after they suffered from weakened or paralysed muscles in the chest - something which was often fatal. The machines became pretty much obsolete after the vaccine was implemented in the 1950s.
Speaking to the Star about how people can avoid getting polio, Randolph said that she believes “getting vaccinated is the thing to do” and that “it’s a personal decision". "But something like vaccinations that you can see the proof of with epidemics just seems more logical,” she said.