In the early 1950’s Jack’s son Christopher contracted polio myelitis, or infantile paralysis as it used to be called, and was taken to Ham Green Hospital under the care of Dr. James Macrae. An essential item in the care and treatment of polio was the iron lung which provided the necessary effort to expand and contract the patient’s chest when the body’s own muscle power was disabled by the disease.
On visiting his son in the Hospital, he found that an iron lung was a large piece of equipment installed in the hospital and available only to a patient who had been brought there in time.
Jack Willcocks studied the design of the machine and, after a discussion about its application and use with the staff at Ham Green, came back to the workshops in Clevedon and set about designing a more portable and automatic unit which could be made readily available to sufferers who were unable to get to a hospital equipped with an iron lung.
The development was successful and the Company went on to make several units which were used all over the country and abroad during the 1950s when the disease struck down many, mainly young, people before vaccines were developed for immunisation against the virus. The Clevedon Ventilator was the subject of an article in The Lancet of November 1953, (p.972) in which it was described how one patient’s life had been saved by being put into the respirator after failing to respond to treatment in the traditional iron lung. Willcocks was thanked for their “beautiful engineering technique”.