87-year-old Peter Brockley says he hasn’t worked on something this fussy in a while, but is confident he’ll get the job done in time. Submitted photo.

West Kootenay octogenarian helping develop low-cost ventilator for COVID-19 patients

Peter Brockley is working with his doctor son, Graham, to develop the unit that could save lives

A lifetime of DIY tinkering has helped a West Kootenay octogenarian and his 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, who practises on Vancouver Island, notes that conservatively there could be four million Canadians 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

A week or two ago 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 that are 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 adopters 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

Totem pole considered cultural appropriation removed from Nelson’s Hume School

The pole had also become rotted and was seen as dangerous to students

Rossland resident Aerin Bowers completes 19-km swim along Christina Lake

Bowers said her dad inspired her to complete the epic adventure

Trail RCMP report golf course break-in, lost child and more

Anyone with information about the Birchbank break-in is asked to call the Trail RCMP

Without federal aid, the future of B.C. air transport is bleak

Air traffic remains down 75 to 85 per cent

RDCK rescinds evacuation alert for properties near Talbott Creek fire

Cooler and wetter condition are expected to help crews fight fire in coming days

B.C. reports 91 new cases as officials remain worried over ‘clusters of COVID-19

There have now been a total of 8,395 cases in B.C. since the pandemic began

Four more cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

There are 31 active cases in isolation in the health region

Canada’s active COVID-19 cases top 10,000 as daily new cases triple over the past month

Dr. Tam repeated her warning to young people, who have made up the majority of recent cases

First 8 months of fatal overdoses in B.C. have now exceeded 2019 death toll

Nine people died every two days in August, BC Coroners Service data shows

Liberal effort to reset policy agenda panned by rivals as too much talk, not action

Trudeau said it’s ‘all too likely’ families won’t be able to gather for Thanksgiving next month

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

‘Show us the money’ for cannabis, local governments tell B.C.

Municipal tax, transit revenues falling as costs rise

‘It’s a boy’: Southern Resident killer whale calf born to J Pod is healthy, researchers say

J35 had previously done a ‘Tour of Grief,’ carrying her dead calf for 17 days

People ‘disgusted’ by COVID-19 election call, B.C. Liberal leader says

Andrew Wilkinson speaks to municipal leaders from Victoria

Most Read