AARC Mourns the Loss of Forrest M. Bird

 Updated: August 3, 2015

The American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) lost its oldest living member on Aug. 2, 2015, when Forrest Bird, MD, PhD, ScD, FAARC, passed away in Sagle, ID at the age of 94.

Forrest BirdDr. Forrest M. Bird

Dr. Bird is known the world over for inventing the first modern ventilator in the 1950s. The device saved thousands of lives and is responsible for laying the groundwork for the sophisticated computer controlled ventilators in use in hospitals across the country and around the world today.

“Dr. Bird was truly a pioneer in respiratory care and pulmonary medicine,” says Frank Salvatore, MBA, RRT, AARC President. “The respiratory therapy care community has been privileged to have known him as a fellow member and colleague.”

The legendary physician received numerous honors and awards for his life’s work, including the Presidential Citizens Medal, National Medal of Technology and Innovation, and Lindbergh Award. He was inducted into the U.S. Inventors Hall of Fame in 1995.

Dr. Bird first became interested in mechanical ventilation when he served as a pilot during World War II. While flying a captured German plane back to the U.S. he noticed some demand regulators used to deliver oxygen to the pilots. After running some experiments on them during the flight he took one of the devices with him to California and began working on improvements, eventually presenting the results to physicians at the School of Aviation Medicine in San Antonio, TX.

That early work with mechanical ventilation in the aviation arena segued into an interest in the medical field and he built the Bird Mark 7, the first modern respirator for use in critically ill patients. In 1970, he introduced the Baby Bird®, a ventilator that’s been credited with reducing the mortality rate for infants with respiratory problems from 70% to less than 10%.

Other innovations in mechanical ventilation followed, and throughout his long career he continued to add enhancements to his devices aimed at allowing the physicians and respiratory therapists who applied them at the bedside to save the lives of patients who otherwise would not have survived their critical illnesses or injuries.

“Respiratory therapists who provide mechanical ventilation to even the most difficult cases can trace that ability back to the work of Dr. Bird,” says Tom Kallstrom, MBA, RRT, AARC Executive Director and CEO. “We are truly grateful for the many years of advice and guidance he provided to our profession and organization as we worked to bring state-of-the-art mechanical ventilation techniques to patients in need.”

Dr. Bird established the Forrest M. Bird Lifetime Scientific Achievement Award with a grant to the American Respiratory Care Foundation (ARCF) in 1983 to recognize outstanding individual scientific contributions in the area of respiratory care of cardiopulmonary disorders. The award is presented during the AARC International Respiratory Convention & Exhibition.

The AARC honored Dr. Bird with its highest honor, the Jimmy A. Young Medal, in 2009.