The inspiration for the name of the business came from the story of Stephane Tarnier. Etienne Stephane Tarnier was born in 1828 in Paris. Stephan studied and practiced medicine as an obstetrician at Maternité de Paris. One day he took a day off from work to visit the Paris Zoo where he came across an exhibit of chicken incubators. Here he saw that recently hatched chickens walking around in the warm enclosure. This led to an idea. He hired Odile Martin who worked as the zoo’s poultry raiser to help build a device similar to the incubator that would work the same for newborn children.
Infant mortality was very high in the late 19th century, typically 300 per 1000 children in inner cities and 80 to 100 per 1000 in other cities. In Paris the rates were 1 in 5 babies died before learning to crawl. Tarnier realised that temperature regulation was critical for keeping the infants alive. Tarnier studied the effect of 500 babies that were placed in a variation of the incubator, a wooden box with hot water bottles. The study showed that 66% of the low-weight babies died within weeks of birth whilst only 38% died if they were in the incubating box. This would effectively half the mortality rate. The analysis done by Tarnier led to the Paris municipal board to install incubators in all the city’s maternity hospitals. Whilst not being the inventor of the incubator Stephane Tarnier can certainly be accredited for applying it for the regular care of premature infants.
What’s the significance? Measured in years the benefit that incubators provide to public health far outweighs any other advances in medical technology. An incubator provides a lifetime whereas treatments such as chemotherapy or a pacemaker may provide you with another few decades.
Giving a simple idea an application in another field can provide ground breaking results.
Excerpts from the book ‘ Where Good Ideas Come From’ by Steven Johnson, a highly recommended read.