James Elam

James Otis Elam MD (1918-1995), an American physician and respiratory researcher responsible for much of the development in this field, provided a basis for the modern ventilator and development of CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation). Prior to Elam’s advancements, little was understood about carbon dioxide absorption, with rudimentary techniques, such as lifting someone’s arms and applying pressure to their chest still being present in the 1950s instead of CPR.[1]

Elam’s career started after he received his medical doctorate from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1945.[2] However, his remarkable discoveries did not come until he moved to the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Centre, in Buffalo, New York.[3] Whilst in Roswell Park he began to draw attention to the elimination and monitoring of Co2 levels, a field in which he was miles ‘ahead of others,’ being the first to prove exhaled air was an adequate resuscitative gas.[4] Eventually, this research he carried out with Elwyn Brown led to the development of the human respiratory simulator which was fundamental in the production of the Air-Shields ventimeter-ventilator.[5] This became the standard ventilator until the 1970s, with further models being based upon its principles.[6]

However, Elam’s biggest contribution to medical science didn’t come until he met his colleague Peter Safar in 1956 where together under US army funding, they developed Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation releasing a paper in 1958.[7] Elam along with Safar spent the following years easing the teaching of this method by producing an instructional booklet Rescue Breathing, whilst also developing the Resusci Anni mannequin.[8] Thus, resulting in the rapid adoption of their method across North America and Europe, remaining in use to this day.[9]

After this high point in his career, Elam parted ways with Safar and left the Roswell Park Centre, moving to Missouri in 1964. However, after a series of disappointments, he went to Chicago in 1966 to continue his work on the respiratory system, founding the Society for Obstetric Anesthesia and Perinatology with Robert Bauer in 1968.[10]

Throughout his life Elam was recognised for his contributions to the field, receiving a US army certificate of achievements and in 1962 the Albion O. Bernstein award.[11]

Bibliography

Basket, Thomas, ‘The Holger Nielson method of artificial respiration,Resuscitation 1:74 (2007).

Brown, Elwyn and Miller, F  ‘Ventricular fibrillation following a rapid fall in alveolar carbon dioxide concentration,’ American Journal of Physics 169 (1952)

Elam, James, Brown, Elwyn and Janney, C, ‘A fixed volume respirator for controlled ventilation during anaesthesia,’ Anaesthesiology 17 (1956)

Ingram, April,  Resusci-Anne to the Rescue. The start of Cardiopulmonary Resuscitationhttps://www.scienceheroes.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=346&Itemid=292 (Accessed 05/08/22)

Safar, Peter, Elam, James and Escarraga, L., ‘A comparison of the mouth-to-mouth and mouth-to-airway methods of artificial respiration with the chest-pressure arm-lift methods,’ New England Medical Journal 258 (1958)

Safar, Peter, James Elam (ed.), ‘Advances in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation’, Springer-Verlag, (New York 1977)

Sands, Robert and Bacon, Douglas ‘An Inventive Mind: The Career of James O. Elam M.D. (1918-1995),’ Anaesthesiology 88, (1998).

Various, A Celebration of Forty Years Society for Obstetric Anesthesia and Perinatology, (2008)


[1] Thomas Basket, ‘The Holger Nielson method of artificial respiration,Resuscitation 1:74 (2007), pp. 8-10.

[2] Robert Sands and Douglas Bacon, ‘An Inventive Mind: The Career of James O. Elam M.D. (1918-1995),’ Anaesthesiology 88, (1998), pp. 1107-1112.

[3] Sands and Bacon, pp. 1107-1112.

[4] Sands and Bacon, pp. 1107-1112; Elwyn Brown and F. Miller, ‘Ventricular fibrillation following a rapid fall in alveolar carbon dioxide concentration,’ American Journal of Physics 169 (1952), pp. 56-60.

[5] James Elam, Elwyn Brown and C Janney, ‘A fixed volume respirator for controlled ventilation during anaesthesia,’ Anaesthesiology 17 (1956), pp. 504-19.

[6] Elam, Brown and Janney, pp. 504-10

[7] Peter Safar, James Elam (ed.), ‘Advances in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation’, Springer-Verlag, (New York 1977), pp. 263-65; Peter Safar, James Elam and L. Escarraga, ‘A comparison of the mouth-to-mouth and mouth-to-airway methods of artificial respiration with the chest-pressure arm-lift methods,’ New England Medical Journal 258 (1958), pp. 671-677.

[8] April Ingram, Resusci-Anne to the Rescue. The start of Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, https://www.scienceheroes.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=346&Itemid=292 (Accessed 05/08/22)

[9] Safar, Elam and Escarraga, mouth-to-mouth and airway vs chest-pressure arm-lift, pp. 671-677.

[10] Various, A Celebration of Forty Years Society for Obstetric Anesthesia and Perinatology, (2008), pp. 28-30.

[11] Safar, Cardiopulmonary Respiration, pp. 263-5.

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