The engineer who fixed his own heart

The engineer who fixed his own heart

Imagine yourself in the place of a cardiac surgeon. At the beginning of an average day, you start seeing patients. You open the medical record and see a typical case for Marfan's syndrome - the patient needs to replace the aorta due to its expansion. You invite the patient to discuss the details of the operation. Your patient, Tal Golesworthy, walks in holding what looks like a piece from a plumbing kit. Then he asks to implant this thing, which he invented himself, right into his heart.

What are your thoughts? Is he crazy? Or too desperate? How can you trust heart surgery to the patient's invention?

Tal Golesworthy is an engineer with Marfan syndrome

No, an engineer decided to solve problems with his genetic disease himself. Tal Golesworthy is an engineer with Marfan syndrome. This syndrome is a multi-systemic genetic disorder affecting the connective tissues, particularly the aorta. As a result of this syndrome, the aorta expands and loses its ability to withstand high blood pressure leading to a high risk of an aneurysm. An aneurysm is a ticking time bomb. It can explode at any minute, and there is a high probability of a fatal outcome. A person living with her understands the danger but does not know when this danger can come.

He had to choose the lesser of two evils
Tal Golesworthy understood this danger more than anyone because his father also had this disease. So he understood where this would lead and what would happen at the end of the story.
Of course, there is a surgical solution to the problem. For treatment, it is necessary to replace the aorta with a length of stiff tubing made of polyester Dacron and the natural valves with mechanical ones. However, this is not an ideal solution to the problem. The drawback is that mechanical valves are apt to generate blood clots. As a result, you have two choices: solve problems surgically but live life on anticoagulants or refuse surgery but wait for the aneurysm to rupture. He had to choose the lesser of two evils.
"You're constantly walking a tightrope between an embolism and a bleed. So I wasn't desperately keen on the idea of surgery," Tal confides, "but what distressed me was the thought of life on anticoagulant drugs. I said to myself, hang on, we can scan the aorta, using CAD [computer-aided design], and produce bespoke support. We can do this."
Tal Golesworthy
an engineer with Marfan syndrome.

Instead of choosing one of the treatment methods, he envisaged something more sophisticated

Instead of choosing one of the treatment methods, he envisaged something more sophisticated: an external, made-to-measure covering, a sleeve that would prevent the aorta's dangerous ballooning. In due course, the procedure acquired PEARS, which stands for 'personalized external aortic root support.
Was this decision now in surgery? In fact, no, a similar solution has already been used for treatment; however, more rigid materials were used for the prosthesis. However, Tal Golesworthy approached this issue with an engineering approach and picked up a more elastic material.

Creating a prosthesis is one thing, but launching it into production and installing it in your heart is a task of a completely different level. Moreover, any scientist knows how critical the medical community is to each invention because each new solution directly impacts human life. So how could an engineer without a medical background start production of cariad protest?

Finding surgeon

Of course, not all surgeons will agree to perform this operation, and you need to be either crazy or a person with a steely character to decide to make a prosthesis for a patient who himself invented this prosthesis. But there was one person who agreed - John Pepper, a professor of cardiothoracic surgery in the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London. He was an innovator surgeon who was not afraid of new trends and, with an open hand, went to new inventions. Pepper says he was 95 percent confident that the procedure would succeed. "Of course, I'd discussed it with the patient." He then laughs, reflecting on the absurdity of discussing the pros and cons of the implant with the man who'd invented it.

The first problem is solved, and the surgeon is found. But there is a second problem; it is finance. For any operation, finances are needed, and the sooner, the better. To solve this problem, Tal Golesworthy raised the money by starting a company called Exstent Ltd to look for investors. Actually, in the beginning, he had only one customer- himself.
Even success has been hard work: "It's becoming a viable business. But from 2004 to about 2014, we were doing risible numbers of patients and struggling to survive. If I had my time again, I doubt I'd do it,"
Tal Golesworthy
an engineer with Marfan syndrome.
As a result of hard work, the implant was inserted into the engineer's heart, not only in him but also in a dozen other patients after him. However, as mentioned earlier, the medical community is skeptical about a new treatment method, especially if a patient created it without medical education, according to Pepper. "They don't recognize the advantages of computer-aided design and rapid prototyping. They think it's just another old wrap that didn't work then and probably won't work now." In surgery especially, the medical community readily accepts new treatment methods if there has been no decision. Moreover, even the perfection of the existing technique requires years of training and clinical trials. They are skeptical about alternative treatments; after all, it requires giving up years of labor and learning a new method.

Tal Golesworthy after surgery

Remember the path of Tal Golesworthy

If you are building a startup, have an illness, or have any difficulty, always remember the path of Tal Golesworthy, the engineer who repairs his own heart. He could not have started all this way with creating a prosthesis for the heart, choosing simply from the two proposed treatment options. He might have given up when the medical community rejected his invention. He could give up when he raised investors for a company with only one client. He could have given up before reaching treatment when he witnessed his father developing the same disease. He could doubt the transplantation of a prosthesis created by himself in his heart, not having passed years of clinical trials.

But Tal Golesworthy did it; he not only saved himself but also gave hope to a thousand people with Marfan syndrome and also the faith of an innovator in his endeavors.

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