As the number of people infected with COVID-19 continues to rise, more and more Canadians will need ventilators to help keep them alive.

On April 7, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau put out the call for a sustainable supply of much-needed medical equipment during the pandemic. Saanich-based Starfish Medical has answered that call with an innovative ventilator design that it says could be produced quickly.

“The need was clear and the solution was something we could come up with,” said John Walmsley, executive VP of strategic relationships for Starfish Medical. “This is product development which is what we are used to.”

Walmsley says at the height of the design stage of the ventilator’s development, as many as 106 Starfish Medical staff worked on the project.

The new “Winnipeg Ventilator” – based on an original design by Winnipeg physician Dr. Magdy Younes in 1978 – has just recently received approval from Health Canada, meaning Starfish Medical can produce 7,500 of the devices for use on COVID-19 patients.

“This is a safe and effective ventilator that was developed by a very effective team to save patients’ lives in a very short time,” said Walmsley. “When you are supporting someone’s life, you know you need to be thorough and know that everything you have done is going to have the necessary reliability and performance.”

Walmsley says the Starfish design team looked for parts and components from unconventional suppliers. Some of the dials and switches used to control the ventilator came from a company that usually supplies the manufacturer of electric guitar amplifiers.

“Our supply chain moved quickly and diligently to discover what supplies and services were available,” said Walmsley. “We didn’t want to disrupt the supply chain for other ventilators.”

Speaking with CTV News from his home in Winnipeg, Younes said he was impressed by the improvements and efficiencies Starfish Medical built in to his original design.

“It is a masterpiece,” said the retired ventilator innovator. “The quality of the people there is just unbelievable.”

The team at Starfish designed the device so it could be used by a variety of ICU medical staff.

“This is designed so it can be used someone who is in the medical profession, but may not be an expert in ventilation,” said Walmsley.

With Starfish Medical’s ventilator receiving a Health Canada COVID-19 medical device authorization, it can now ship units to the Public Health Authority of Canada for use in Canadian hospitals.

“Knowing that in the end, with the device working to save patient’s lives, when we see the first one deployed, I know everyone will be very proud,” Walmsley said.