Medical Matters

There have been huge improvements in the Medical field over the years, with the result that conditions once considered terminal, even though still life-threatening, are now able to be cured or greatly improved with the application of new procedures and medication, or replacement of limbs or organs with organs from donors or with prosthetics.

Medication

has ben greatly improved with identification and removal of chemicals that contributed to allergic reactions, and discovery of new, more powerful and safer ones. Some medicines used could be lethal in the wrong combinations or amounts, and these are much better controlled now. See the Medicines page for some of the earlier medicines used.

Iron Lung

Picture of an Iron Lung from 1950

The iron lung is a negative pressure ventilator, used to assist with breathing when the lungs are not capable of doing this effectively. The first negative pressure ventilator was built in 1670 By John Mayow, using a bellows and a bladder. This system was improved over time to become the Iron Lung.
The first one to be widely used was developed by Drinker and Shaw in 1928, and its first use was on a child suffering from poliomyelitis.
In the mid-20th century, the Iron Lung was used to treat coal gas poisoning and then more extensively poliomyelitis, before the Salk vaccine was developed for this in 1955, and the Sabin vaccine in 1961.
Negative pressure ventilation has now been almost entirely superseded by positive pressure ventilation.

Organ transplant

Below is a list of some of the more significant developments in organ transplant.

  • First skin auto graft transplantation of skin tissue from one location on an individual’s body to another location. 1823, Germany
  • First human-to-human corneal transplant. 1905, Morovia (Czech Republic)
  • First skin transplantation from a donor to a recipient. 1908, Switzerland
  • First living related kidney transplant (identical twins). 1954, USA
  • First heart valve person-to-person transplant. 1955, Canada
  • First kidney transplant from a deceased donor. 1962, USA
  • First successful liver transplant. 1967, USA
  • First heart transplant. 1967, South Africa
  • First pancreas transplant. 1968, USA
  • First heart/lung transplant. 1981, USA
  • First heart-liver transplant. 1984, USA
  • First successful double lung transplant. 1986, Canada
  • The "Brisbane Technique" for splitting livers to benefit three recipients initiated. 1986, Australia

Prosthetics and mobility-aids

Picture of non-motorised mobility cart Picture of man climbing with prosthetic foot Picture of battery-powered mobility cart

Carts are available now that allow the user much better mobility than previously, with good suspension and stability. Battery-powered versions are of course more expensive. Their range depends on the type of battery but may be up to 50Km per charge.

Prosthetic limbs are artificial limbs made to replace damaged or missing limbs, from such events as birth defects, war or other accidents or disease. Below is a list of significant events in this field.

  • The earliest-known prosthetic toe made from wood and leather (from about 950–710 B.C.) was discovered in the 1800s attached to an Egyptian mummy.
  • The Greville Chester toe, created by the Egyptians (about 600BC) and discovered in 2000 near present-day Luxor, is made of a paper maché material and plaster mixture.
  • The oldest known prosthetic leg — the Capua leg — was crafted by Romans from bronze and iron with a wooden core about 300 B.C. It was once housed in the Royal College of Surgeons, but was destroyed during World War II bombings. A replica is now at the Science Museum in London.
  • Peg legs and hand hooks were common for those who could afford to have them fitted around 476–1000. Tradesmen often crafted prosthetics during this time. For example, those who made watches often used gears and springs to give limbs more detailed functionality.
  • Copper, iron, steel, and wood were the most common materials used for prosthetics from 1400–1800.
  • During the American Civil War, around 1863, the U.S. started to see advancements in the field of prosthetics. The cosmetic rubber hand was introduced with fingers that could move and various attachments, such as brushes and hooks.
  • Following World War II, most limbs were made of a combination of wood and leather. However the prosthetics were heavy, and leather can be difficult to keep clean, especially since it absorbs perspiration.
  • Plastics, polycarbonates, resins, and laminates were introduced from 1970s–1990s as light, easy-to-clean alternatives to wood and leather models. Prosthetics also started being made from lightweight materials such as carbon fiber. Synthetic sockets were custom fitted to provide a comfortable, and hygienic fit.
  • Prosthetic design has advanced to highly specialized prosthetics, including high-performance, lightweight running blades, responsive legs and feet for navigating varying terrain, and motorized hand prosthetics controlled by sensors and microprocessors. The Computer Age has arrived!
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