Peter Brockley at work on his prototype ventilator. Submitted photo.

Cowichan doc spurs octogenarian dad to develop low-cost ventilator for COVID-19 patients

Graham Brockley takes concept to his dad who is trying to develop it to save lives

A lifetime of DIY tinkering has helped a West Kootenay octogenarian and his Cowichan Valley doctor son come up with a prototype ventilator to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“He was just the kind of guy who always made what he needed,” says Dr. Graham Brockley of his father Peter. “And because of that I have sort of been raised in the same light. If we need something, we can make it.”

And right now, that need is for ventilators.

Ventilators are a key piece of equipment used in treating patients hardest hit by the novel coronavirus, which has infected hundreds of thousands of people worldwide and killed thousands.

“They’re basically an air pump,” says Brockley. “A simple one is not theoretically hard to build, but they’re in short supply.”

Brockley, a Ladysmith emergency room doctor who lives in Duncan, notes that conservatively four million Canadians could be infected with the coronavirus. “Conceivably in Canada you could have 200,000 people needing ventilators. And currently in Canada we only have 5,000 ventilators.

“It’s a huge shortfall.”

SEE: Doctors will have help with any ‘distressing decisions’ around which COVID-19 patients get ventilators

Recently Brockley recalled coming across a medical research paper describing a more low-tech, portable version of the breathing equipment. It works differently from the $50,000, high-tech pieces of equipment now in such demand. It uses a mechanical system to squeeze a ventilator bag that most ambulance attendants and nurses would recognize.

It could be quickly and easily produced, and cost hundreds of dollars to build, not tens of thousands.

Brockley took the paper to his dad, who still keeps a well-stocked machine shop in his Glade home.

“I asked him if he could build it. He looked at it and said, ‘Of course,’” recalls Brockley.

That attitude doesn’t surprise the son.

“You have to understand my dad, whenever we needed something, his first inclination was, ‘Can I make it?’” he says. “My dad built one of the first motor homes, on the back of a ’56 Pontiac station wagon chassis, in the late 1960s. We were one of the first in Canada, or at least Alberta, to have a motorhome.”

With his father on board, the younger Brockley took the paper to a fellow doctor, whose own father happens to be an mechanical engineer living in Tsawwassen.

That senior drew up proper blueprints for such a machine, and the two fathers-of-doctors began working together to build a prototype.

The elder Brockley downplays his own role.

“That guy is a robot builder, he designed the thing,” says the 87-year-old, who spent much of his career doing machine work in Alberta’s oil patch. “I’m machining the easy parts. He’s doing the software stuff.”

Peter Brockley has been working non-stop to produce the bits and pieces of a working prototype of the machine to get it out to his engineer partner in Tsawwassen as soon as possible.

“It’s fussy. I haven’t done anything this fussy in quite a while,” says Brockley, who first started apprenticing as a machinist in Britain just after the Second World War.

“But it’s just a matter of getting the material and machining the parts. I’ve been doing it quite a few years. If I need something, I just build it.”

Prototype to approval

Of course, producing a better mousetrap, so to speak, and getting it approved are two different things.

Under normal circumstances, such a process could take years. But Graham Brockley points out these aren’t normal circumstances.

“We’re in a crisis situation, and sometimes those rules get ignored in favour of saving lives,” he says. “I think the next steps would be to get medical approval from Health Canada.”

He doesn’t think there would be any serious objections from federal regulators to approving the device. After it’s been put together, he’ll have some anesthesiologist colleagues review the device and give feedback. They’ll build a second prototype, and send it off for approvals.

But he says working in such a small team, changes can be made quickly. Though the peak of the virus spread is estimated to be only a few weeks away, he thinks anything they can do will help.

“Their design is very simple, and uses an already-approved bag that hand-ventilates a person,” Dr. Brockley says.

Even if it’s not ready in time for this pandemic, he believes it could have use in the future, especially in poorer countries that can’t afford the expensive version of the equipment.

Once a manufacturer is found, Brockley thinks production could be scaled up pretty quickly.

“Every ventilator that’s produced, in a couple of weeks, even if it’s 10 or 20, when things really hit the fan, will save lives.”



reporter@rosslandnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Some of the pieces of Brockley has been machining in his Glade workshop. Submitted photo

Just Posted

Lake Flashback: Museum preserves future, new hope for a pool, and a murder

Welcome to Lake Flashback. Reporter Sarah Simpson has been combing through old… Continue reading

Cobble Hill man dies in ATV accident south of Nanaimo

Incident happened on backroad Friday night in Nanaimo Lakes area

Drivesmart column: The registered owner is responsible

Have you ever stopped to consider the risk involved in handing your keys over to someone else?

Aquatic Centre renovations starting soon

More space promised for crowded fitness and aquatic areas

Mary Lowther column: Nutrition in our food on the decline

When crops don’t contain the minerals they need, they cannot provide other nutrients we depend on.

VIDEO: Injured bald eagle rescued in B.C. First Nations community

Bird suspected injured in fight, whisked off to Coquitlam rehab

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

Toronto Raptors’ Ujiri says conversations about racism can no longer be avoided

Thousands have protested Floyd’s death and repeated police killings of black men across the United States

‘I’m afraid’: Witnesses of wolf attack on senior near Prince Rupert worried about safety

Frank Russ shows where the unprovoked wolf attacked his father

Protesters prepare to rally against racism in front of Vancouver Art Gallery

Rally is in response to the deaths of black Americans and a Toronto woman

Protesters rally against anti-black, Indigenous racism in Toronto

Police estimated the crowd to be between 3,500 and 4,000 and said there was no violence

Feds earmark $1.5M to support recovery of B.C., Indigenous tourism

B.C. money will be split between Vancouver Island and Indigenous tourism

‘We’re sick of it’: Anger over police killings shatters U.S.

Tens of thousands marched to protest the death of George Floyd

Most Read