How an engineer's failing heart helped him rethink implants

When told that the aortic root of his heart had expanded to life-threatening levels, Tal Golesworthy was given two options: have a mechanical valve inserted (and forever after take Warfarin, a drug that can cause severe bleeding), or risk a fatal heart attack. Golesworthy made up a third option and designed his own brilliant heart implant.

Golesworthy, an engineer from the U.K., was born with Marfan syndrome. Now, I'm no doctor, but it appears that Marfan syndrome ranges wildly from mild to severe, the worst case scenarios causing damage to the heart, lungs and spine. In Golesworthy's case, his aortic root swelled to the point that it could have split open. The news was given to him back in 2000.

Being an engineer, Golesworthy set up creating his own solution: "It seemed to me to be pretty obvious that you could scan the heart structure, model it with a [computer-aided design] routine, then use [rapid prototyping] to create a former on which to manufacture a device," he said. "In a sense, conceptually, it was very simple to do. Actually engineering that was significantly more complex."

His solution? A molded tube that acted like a bandage of sorts and could keep his aortic root from rupturing. Golesworthy had his custom implant put into place back in '04, a move which could very well have saved him severe complications, let alone saved his life. 23 other patients have received the same procedure and it could be the go-to for others suffering from similar Marfan syndrome-induced complications.

Golesworthy sees his success as a serious concern, however. If it took a failing heart to cause him to design the implant, which in the end was produced without the need for an excessive amount of man-hours or money. To Golesworthy's mind, the U.K. health system, at the very least, is in sore need of some proper engineering.

The Engineer (Just a head's up: the article contains some graphic surgical images), via Boing Boing

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