Your life or the life of a loved one may depend upon having correct information about the ventilator, commonly called a “respirator.”

Many people with disabilities use ventilators every day to assist their breathing. For them, a ventilator is a necessity of life which allows them not only to continue living, but to breathe easier and enjoy life to its fullest. The ventilator is also commonly and effectively used to save lives. Sadly, the function it plays in the healing process is not widely understood. The vast majority of the population mistakenly believe a ventilator merely delays imminent death. Three real-life cases alerted me to the truth about the short-term healing role of the ventilator.

My 41-year-old nephew’s life hung in the balance. Injured in an automobile accident, he was suffering from shocked-lung syndrome—a condition in which the elasticity of the lungs is greatly curtailed.                

To give my nephew’s body a chance to heal without fighting for breath, doctors induced a comatose state and put him on a ventilator.
His life depended on the ventilator for more than three weeks. When he was finally taken off this machine, his body took over, eventually completing the healing process. Today, he is back working at his heavy-duty construction job—thanks to excellent medical care, the ventilator, and endless prayers.
In the second case, a dear friend sustained a head injury. Because his traumatized body started to shut down following surgery to close the wound, he too was put into a medically induced coma and connected to a ventilator. After five days, he was taken off the ventilator and his natural breathing functions took over. This friend, who at 80 didn’t believe in retirement, went back to working fulltime. Imagine the outcome had he signed a Living Will that stated he would never want to be put on a “respirator.” If you have made a statement to this effect, either orally or in writing, I advise you to promptly and emphatically rescind it, preferably in writing.

Lastly, a middle-aged woman of my acquaintance suffered from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), but was coping admirably well, living a very active, productive life in a political leadership position. One night she experienced extreme shortness of breath and was taken to an ER by her husband. When the attending physician mentioned a ventilator to give her relief, she shook her head “no.” Acceding to her wishes, the husband didn’t insist. She died shortly  thereafter. If this woman or her husband had been made aware of the healing value of a ventilator, might she still be with us, carrying the political torch, and enjoying her grandchildren?

I am an enthusiastic champion of the ventilator. We must all do our part to dispel the mistaken assumption that use of a ventilator is an extraordinary or heroic measure which only temporarily prolongs life. Its role in protecting and preserving lives must be promoted until it becomes common knowledge. Providing accurate information about life and death measures gives patients and their families the ability to make truly informed treatment decisions.

By Marlene Reid
President Emeritus