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.

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

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

Just Posted

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
36 new cases of COVID-19, one death in Interior Health

The number of active cases in the region is at 366

Minor Hockey Day in Trail - for web
Greater Trail minor hockey maintains tradition in time of no-play pandemic

GTMHA recognizing its teams in Trail Times feature (photos pre-pandemic)

Tim Schewe
DriveSmart: Police Powers

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement.

Coby Reid helped rescue this bobcat from where it had frozen to the train tracks. Photo: Coby Reid
Bobcat deliverer shares details from Kootenay train track rescue

Coby Reid helped rescue a bobcat that was frozen to train tracks near Waneta bridge

Pictured here are part of the Oxide Leaching crew on Dec. 31, 1944. L-R: Reg Bilkey, Mary Rohacks, Mabel Schiavon, Bill Saitherswaite, Bobby Mason held by Carmela Demeo, Jean Stainton, Skid Marsters, Ingrid “Atty” Atkinson, Andy Adie, and Jessie Woodridge. Photo: Trail Historical Society
Trail Blazers: Pillars of strength – our women

Trail Blazers is a weekly historical feature in partnership with the Trail Museum and Archives

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Canada’s hockey dad had battled Parkinson’s disease and other health issues

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Second death reported in Kelowna General Hospital COVID-19 outbreak

A total of seven cases have been identified at the hospital: six patients and one staff

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Grand Forks’ Gary Smith stands in front of his Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster float. Photo: Submitted
Grand Forks’ Flying Spaghetti Monster leader still boiling over driver’s licence photo

Gary Smith, head of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster of B.C., said he has since spoken to lawyers

A Cowichan Valley mom is wondering why masks haven’t been mandated for elementary schools. (Metro Creative photo)
B.C. mom frustrated by lack of mask mandate for elementary students

“Do we want to wait until we end up like Fraser Health?”

Most Read