People We Know


Sunny Weingarten, Inventor

by Jeanine Ellison-Fisher & Margaret Hinman

Sunny was born in August, 1942, and raised on a 110-acre farm in Thornton, Colorado. Even before being old enough to start school, Sunny rode down the lane every day, bareback on his own horse, Rex, and with his dogs, to fish until the sun overhead told him it was time to head home to do his chores. Everyday, that is, until school started, and even then, he apparently left school a little too early in the day and a little too often, in order to keep fishing. Everyday that is, until his teacher had a little talk with his father.

Everyday, that is, until July l949, when Sunny was struck with Polio. Sunny went to Children’s Hospital in Denver, and Rex died a week later. “Dad said he got polio from me or I got it from him.” He was hospitalized on a Sunday. His parents left him on a gurney. Mom cried, Dad didn’t say a word. “They were advised not to say anything to me.” Sunny was really scared, terrified, and how much the spinal tap really hurt bad, and later, the pain from the penicillin shots. He was 7½ years old. 

In the hospital, every once in a while someone would come to check on him; people came in masks. He was in an oxygen tent at first, but by Thursday he became unconscious so they put him in an iron lung. When he woke up in the iron lung he describes the odd feeling he had that was like being run over by a car, and the inside of the iron lung looked like the underside of a car.

On the boys ward, Sunny made a lot of friends with whom he pulled a lot of tricks. They managed to cause occasional chaos in the hospital, too. One Friday they plugged up the pool and by Monday when the staff returned to work, the therapy room was flooded! His line? “They couldn’t pin it on us but they always suspected.”

They also tried to “bomb” with water balloons unsuspecting passers-by, particularly ladies, who walked below their hospital floor. Sunny was the person chosen to transport the balloons, on his chest and stomach, in the wheel chair. Their aim and timing was not very good, luckily for their victims, as they never hit anyone.

An early Porta-LungThis story is about a guy who is ventilator dependent; and “out of necessity, the inventor of the first Porta-Lung. No one predated his invention. When he went home from the hospital, he went in an iron lung which weighed 800 lbs. and he was in it for over 35 years. But in l975, realizing he was stuck at home every night, so “out of necessity” he put his mind to it and designed the first prototype Porta-Lung which weighed 100 lbs. and fit into a van. 

Sunny wanted to travel. Over his lifetime he has travelled over 50,000 miles with his Porta-Lung in his van. With this new-found freedom, he traveled from 1976 to 1985, all over North America to 48 states, Canada and Mexico. 

Sunny at Rehabilitation Gazette's 1981 Conference.

His Porta-Lung is even more effective than the iron lung because it provides higher pressure levels, and variable inspiration/expiration ratios provided by a portable, separate pressure unit. It’s a portable, aesthetic space capsule, maintenance free and 100% effective because of total body coverage of the pressures.

After incorporation in November, l985, he and his partner developed a better Porta-Lung, a negative pressure ventilator which they named Responics. They unveiled it in Atlanta, Georgia. It was approved by the FDA. The airlines accepted it for no charge. They produced three different sizes of the Porta-Lung, including a small one for children, and they distributed hundreds of them around the world. For 21 years they produced it. They made it available to 46 different states, and 11 foreign countries, including China, and Thailand. His invention was published in prestigious medical journals.

Sunny now uses a Positive Pressure Ventilator with a custom mouth piece. Over the years, he has tried 6 different mouth pieces and finally found this one in Texas that does not destroy the tissues around the mouth.

There are stories to tell about Sunny, his baseball coaching, and the famous people he has met. Sunny lives in a remodeled home surrounded by many trophies and framed pictures on the wall for all 15 of his teams, the boys’ baseball teams he coached for many years. For some of those boys he was not only a coach but a counselor and a mentor. His teams “always won.”

The City of Thornton was looking for the name of an individual who had contributed the most to recreational athletics over the last decade or two, and they selected Sunny. In honor of his achievements they named a baseball park after him.

Sunny has been a Bronco fan from the first, attending nearly all of the home games and two Super Bowls, including the one in St Louis. At the time, he bought a Cessna l82, a 4-seater Skylane, put his buddy in the pilot’s seat, and proceeded to have a good, eventful, challenging, exhausting and sleepless time at the game. His adventure included a dramatic flight home when they were running on fumes, nearly out of gas, and had to dive straight through a little pocket in the clouds to land on a nice smooth grass field near Athens, Texas. Arriving home at the Jefferson County Airport, Sunny was limp and tired and hungry and relieved to get in the wheel chair!

His constant and avid support of the Broncos, even with a respirator and in a wheel chair, led him to be selected as the representative fan who was present at the groundbreaking ceremony for the building of Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium, the new Bronco playing field.

Sunny, larger than life himself, is a guy who seems to have a knack for meeting famous people, like Billy Graham, Mohammad Ali, and Lyle Alzado, a former Denver Bronco. On his wall is a framed letter from President Eisenhower and a letter “hand-typed” by Eleanor Roosevelt!

Sunny has always been convinced that someone in a respirator could lead a fruitful and meaningful life, and he proceeded to prove it with him own life. At this time, Sunny is the longest living person who is on a ventilator in Colorado. Now more “tired than retired,” he plans to write his life story. What a story that will be!

Walter William "Sunny" Weingarten, passed away on March 31st, 2012 at the age of 70. He was born on Feb. 5th, 1942 and was a life-long resident of Adams County Colorado. 

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