Posted by JRS on Apr 24, 2018

Rotary Iron Lung Education Equipment: RILEE

Rotary’s commitment to ending polio is nearly 40 years old. Since its first project to vaccinate children in the Philippines in 1979, Rotary (along with partners) has reduced polio cases by 99.9% worldwide. But the fight isn’t over, and Rotary is constantly seeking new ways to communicate its End Polio Now message to youth and engage their passionate participation in eradication.
What better, more impactful way to do that than with an iron lung? An iconic relic from the midcentury polio struggle, an iron lung would help today’s youth understand the dangers of polio—and its deleterious, lifelong effects on survivors. Rotary is giving this iron lung both a custom trailer and a new lease on life—as well as an important new role—as RILEE, or Rotary Iron Lung Education Equipment.
As a functioning medical device, RILEE’s first role was saving children’s lives in Sarasota, Florida. After it was no longer used for this purpose, it was on display at the Sarasota Children’s Museum to educate children on the dangers and history of polio. When the children’s museum closed, a local Floridian, Henry, saw beauty and possibility in the iron lung. He purchased it at auction and stored it for several years.
It was at this time that Rotary District 6440 began searching in earnest for ways to promote the End Polio Now message. Rotarian Suzanne Gibson took to eBay—and found Henry’s iron lung for sale on her first search. The Iron Lung Task Force was formed as several challenges became evident:
  • Transportation for the iron lung from Florida to District 6440. Just days before Hurricane Irma hit Florida with devastating winds and rain over Labor Day weekend, Mark Gibson drove a cargo van down to Florida to rescue RILEE.
  • Housing for RILEE in District 6440. Rotarian Paul Metivier is graciously providing a home for RILEE at his Sportdecals factory in Spring Grove, and his graphic design team will wrap the custom trailer in End Polio Now graphics.
  • Making RILEE easily accessible for educational purposes. Rotary commissioned a custom trailer to safely transport RILEE after hearing through The Rotarian magazine about a similar project initiated by Rotarian Roger Frank of the Rotary Club of Upper Eden, England. Roger generously emailed with club members to provide advice.
  • Financing RILEE. An anonymous donor initiated the process by donating the iron lung. Formation of the Iron Lung Task Force with representatives from the three Northern Illinois Districts devised the Charter Sponsor (September to December 2017) initiative to finance the custom trailer and cover initial expenses, including insurance, title, graphics, and storage for the first year.
  • Identifying drivers with experience. The lung weighs in at 800 pounds, and so drivers must be experienced with a heavy load.
  • Build engagement using social media. Kat Beringer has led the formation of the District 6440 Iron Lung Facebook page. Kat Beringer gave an update on the formation of the District 6440 Iron Lung Facebook page. Along with Jack Bechaud, District 6440 Social Media Advisor, plans are underway for this site to serve as the portal for reservations for RILEE’s club and community visits, gather stories and videos of polio survivors, and serve as a worldwide tool for Rotarians to “Drop to Zero” and eradicate polio.
Recently, Iron Lung Task Force Charter Sponsors and Northern Illinois Rotary Council members gathered at Sportdecals in Spring Grove to preview RILEE. Rotary 6440 District Governor Donald Brewer thanked District Governors Scott McAdam (6450) and Steve Run (6420) for their collaboration in this project as Charter Sponsors. Joining the ranks for Charter Sponsors at the $1,000 level are five District 6440 Rotary Clubs:  Arlington Heights, Barrington Breakfast, Cary Grove, Lake in the Hills, Wilmette Harbor and individuals Mark and Suzanne Gibson, Paul and C.J. Metivier, and Rick and Helen Rivkin. Charter sponsors at the $500 level include Julie and John Clark, Lyle and AnnMarie Staab and Rotary Club of Schaumburg-Hoffman Estates.  Rick Rivkin was recognized for devising an easy method for Charter Sponsors to donate to the District 6440 Charitable Fund.
Polio’s survivors remember vividly what it was like to live in fear of the disease. Elizabeth McGraph, of Barrington Breakfast Rotary Club, shared how polio touched her family and took the life of her little sister.  Elizabeth did not escape totally from polio’s reach. She is a Rotarian today because of Rotary’s commitment to end polio.
RILEE will debut at Midwest PETS on March 2, 2018 at The Westin Hotel in Itasca. The event is from 4:30-6:30 PM.
Reservations are now being taken for RILEE.  Reserve your date up to one year in advance. A donation of $100 for a 24-hour period is requested.