At his tiny workshop on Pune-Ahmednagar Road, 84-year-old Captain Rustom Bharucha is getting ready to attend a 2 pm conference call with officials at Hella India, after which he will be meeting Bharat Forge officials who have shown an interest in his design of a portable ventilator. A team of scientists from some institutions in the city have already digitised his design, while small manufacturers have been incessantly calling him at the workshop number. The ‘Bharucha ventilator’, as he terms it, has been sold since the 1990s to nearly 150 individual doctors and hospitals.
Bharucha, who cycles 20 km to the city’s interior to pick up raw materials like aluminum sheets, iron bars and 80 other components, and then assembles them at his tiny workshop, has also caught the attention of Dr. Prashant Jha, who is treating coronavirus patients in London.
Nick Booker, co-founder of OpenBreath.tech, a network of doctors and engineers across the world, says in the in the foreword of Bharucha’s manual ‘Introduction to Ventilator Therapy’ that they wanted to understand more about his work. “Humanity is facing a big challenge but many ideas come from everywhere across the world. This manual and the machines built by Captain Bharucha are packed with ideas and can inspire you to help others breathe again,” writes Booker.
Bharucha, who has a BSc degree from Gujarat University in 1955, used to spend his spare time at the Physical Research Laboratory at Ahmedabad and worked for India Radio and Electronics Corporation, assembling wireless sets for the police, and then at Century Rayon as an electrical apprentice. He joined the Territorial Army and was in charge of the wireless detachment supporting the first Maratha Inf battalion during the Goa operation.
He left at the age of 29 and started his own outfit to repair medical devices. In 1965, he was persuaded by his late brother Dr. Pervez to quickly design a pulse monitor that can detect cardiac arrest during surgery. His work was recognised soon, and he developed a telethermometer with rectal, skin and myocardial probes, apnea monitor for neonates and micronephelometer for lipid profile, and then an anaesthetic ventilator and advanced portable ventilator for critical patients.
His work was appreciated by the faculty at IIT Mumbai and Department of Instrumentation Science at Pune University. “With no formal degree in engineering, and going about my work by riding a bicycle… this made people wonder how I could have designed a ventilator,” he said, adding that he was nominated for a life time achievement award in medical instrumentation by the DRDO but was later rejected.
In the late 1970s, Dr. Ashok Kanetkar, a cardiac surgeon in Pune, urgently requested Bharucha to go to the Aundh Chest Hospital where a patient’s chest was open and the ventilator had stopped working. “I remember, within 10 minutes, I had fixed the fault,” Bharucha says.
Since then, he has been engaged in making ventilators, some of which he sold to individual doctors and hospitals at Latur and Aurangabad.
Dr. Sanjeev Deshpande, an anaesthetist who works at multiple hospitals in Aurangabad, said that despite limitations, the ventilator was useful during surgery.
In 2003, the Tata Consultancy Services sent a German team to visit his workshop and he received an order for 49 ventilators for rural Maharashtra. “The ventilator became popular and was used during the treatment of snakebite, scorpion bite and other poisoning cases,“ he said.
With the number of cororonavirus cases crossing 1,000 in India, an effort — called COVID 19 Ventilator project – is being coordinated by the Mahratta Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture – where several industrial houses are joining hands to get everyone on the same page.
Prakash Chhabria, chairman of Finolex Industries Limited, told The Indian Express that there were some brilliant minds in the city and his role was to bring together this group of doctors and engineers. “I have interacted with pulmonologists like Dr. Arvind Bhome and scientists like Prof L S Shashidhara who have a studied approach on the issue. These doctors and scientists guiding our engineers was the aim,” said Chabbria.
At MCCIA, Vice President Deepak Karandikar said, “There is also likely to be a shortage of personal protective equipment and ventilators and we are hoping to put our might together and work on a design that is compliant with what the medical fraternity’s needs. There are various persons who are making ventilators and this is a tricky process… There are lot of members who are actually employing whatever they can to finalise a perfect design. Everyone is on the platform – we are taking help from any source – Captain Bharucha’s ventilator is a very good starting point and will have to be upgraded before use”.
Dr. Arvind Bhome, a pulmonologist and intensivist for the past 40 years who had started India’s first ever mechanical ventilation workshop as the then chairman of the Indian Society of Critical Care Medicine, told The Indian Express that he has known Captain Bharucha for over 30 years. “Captain Bharucha is an honest and excellent human being. He is not trying to sell the ventilator but wants to share his knowledge of what goes into the making of a ventilator with anyone and everyone. The Bharucha Ventilator is a robust model that can work on a simple electric connection and can be operated manually. However, this model is more suited for peripheral areas and in desperate situations can be used to ventilate patients while transporting them from villages to nearby hospitals”.
Industrial firms have connected with Captain Bharucha. “Baba Kalyani — chairman and MD of Bharat Forge – did ask me whether the ventilator can help COVID-19 patients. I have said that it is a noiseless, genuine and innovative product but cannot generate pressure of more than 20 cm of water and hence the motor would not be sufficient to ventilate patients with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. The motor should be able to generate pressure in the range of 5 to 60 and the patient should not be delivered pressure of more than 40. To increase the motor’s capacity, it would need multiple valves, metatronics to make it safe for the patient,” Dr. Bhome told The Indian Express.
He, however, pointed out that the model is safe to run at primary health care centres and can ventilate people with healthy lungs. “Modern electronic ventilators are not cheap but since we are dealing with a fast-spreading infectious disease , there is a need to design a safe ventilators so that healthcare providers do not catch the infection”.
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