Ivan Magill, born in Larne, Co. Antrim in 1888, is acknowledged as a father of modern anesthesia. Magill, who started working with anesthetics at the end of the First World War, invented ingenious techniques that allowed patients (mostly soldiers needing reconstruction of shattered faces) to breathe during operations. Prior to this, anesthesia was as likely to be administered by a passing porter wielding a bottle and a rag, and there was a fine line between giving enough anesthesia to put them to sleep and giving them a fatal overdose.
Magill also developed a suction technique to clear phlegm from the lungs of TB patients, making long surgery easier, and in the 1930s he invented the sophisticated breathing and anesthetic delivery system which made chest and heart operations possible.
Magill is one of the many people featured in Mary Melvihill’s award-winning book, Ingenious Ireland (TownHouse 2002). ♦