Tag: iron lung

Who Is Robin Cavendish?

Polio is close to being eradicated.

So far this year, there have only been 11 cases of wild polio in the world – 6 in Afghanistan and 5 in Pakistan.

“In 1952 alone, nearly 60,000 children were infected with the virus; thousands were paralyzed, and more than 3,000 died.”

Jason Beaubien on Wiping Out Polio: How The U.S. Snuffed Out A Killer

Robin Cavendish was born and raised in the pre-vaccine era though, before we had the polio vaccines that have controlled, and will hopefully soon eradicate, polio.

Who Is Robin Cavendish?

Breathe is the story of Robin and Diane Cavendish.
Breathe is the story of Robin and Diana Cavendish.

Robin Francis Cavendish was born on March 12, 1930 in Middleton, Derbyshire, England.

After an early career in the Army, he helped start a tea-brokering business in Africa and made frequent trips to Kenya.

It was in Kenya that he developed paralytic polio in December 1958, just over three years after Jonas Salk‘s polio vaccine was found to be effective in field trials (April 1955).

Although he was initially given just three months to live after his diagnosis, with the help of his wife Diana, he was able to survive for another 36 years!

And they did a lot with those years, including:

  • using a specially adapted van to travel around England
  • developing a wheelchair with a built-in respirator with their friend, Oxford professor Teddy Hall and his company Littlemore Scientific Engineering. Their first prototype of their portable respirator was released in 1962 – the Cavendish Chair.
  • helping scientists develop the Possum, a device that helped severely disabled people electronically control their environment, including answer the phone or turn on the TV
  • becoming an advocate for other polio survivors
  • co-founding the charity Refresh with Dr. Geoffrey Spencer, which started as a way for families who needed extra help because of the need for a respirator to go on vacation together

The story of his remarkable life is told in the new movie Breathe.

And while it is also a great reminder of what life was like before we had vaccines, we shouldn’t forget about all of the other polio survivors, some of whom now have to deal with post-polio syndrome.

Nor the fact that we are so close to ending polio. Or at least new polio infections.

What to Know About Robin Cavendish

Robin Cavendish was a respirator dependent polio survivor whose life story is told in the new movie Breathe.

More About Robin Cavendish and Surviving Polio

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