Heart Repair With Plumbing Solutions
What do you when you have a genetic condition that leaves your heart in a less than perfect state? Mope around?
Well, Tal Golesworthy isn’t like that. He decided to take matters into his own hands.
Golesworthy is neither a doctor nor any kind of medical researcher. He’s an engineer. But with characteristic self-belief he reckoned he could devise a simpler and safer way of fixing his problem.
And he did. He then persuaded a surgeon to take him seriously, became the guinea pig for the first operation, and now runs a company set up to manufacture implants like the one buried in his own chest. It’s been there for a decade, and it’s keeping him alive.
Golesworthy’s experience is notable for his persistence and single-minded determination. But there’s more to it than that. It raises questions about innovation in surgery, the acceptance of new procedures and the research required to test them.
And it flags up the likelihood that other patients with other diseases are harbouring similarly ingenious or radical ideas.
As an engineer, Tal Golesworthy is no stranger to taking things apart, figuring out what the trouble is and putting them back together with the problem solved.
But for more than 30 years, he lived with a life-threatening issue that was less easy to fix.
That is, until he took an idea from the garden, combined it with some basic procedures borrowed from the aeronautical industry and came up with a “beautifully simple” solution to treat his own heart condition.
He then managed to convince surgeons to put it into him.
And nine years since his operation, the 57-year-old engineer from Gloucestershire in the UK has managed to help more than 40 people with similar conditions.
Andrew Ellis, a keen footballer, has benefited from Mr Golesworthy’s inventiveness.
At just 27 years old, Mr Ellis said it was daunting to put himself through an experimental medical procedure experienced by so few, but he was glad he did.
Five years after his surgery, he remains fit and healthy and “feels like someone without a heart condition”.
Mr Golesworthy is now calling on surgeons across Europe to start a trial and test his device against more conventional therapy.
Like Mr Ellis, Tal Golesworthy has Marfan syndrome – a disorder in which the body’s connective tissues are faulty.
These tissues normally act as scaffolding for the major organs, ensuring they are kept in shape and in place. But people with severe forms of the syndrome can have problems with their eyes, joints and particularly their hearts.
Now, he has helped in the development of a new process that can save victims of the Marfan syndrome from a life of undue pain.
Now, there is a surgery available for this. Unfortunately, it is not a very good solution to the whole thing.
First, you will be anesthetized; you will certainly not want to be awake for what comes next.
Then the surgeons will stop your heart. They will cut the aorta and take it out. It will be replaced with an aorta and valve made of plastic.
Finally, you will have to go for regular anticoagulation therapies throughout your life. That’s not a great option, is it?
That is exactly what Golesworthy felt.
Golesworthy realized that at its fundamental level, he had a plumbing problem. So, he approached it like an engineering problem.
In his condition, his aorta had lost its tensile strength. If it were a pipe, then the solution would be to simply place an external wrap like duct tape. Voilà! Problem solved.
Unfortunately, reality is a bit more complicated than that. Golesworthy had to assemble a team of engineers and doctors to create a porous textile mesh that could be wrapped around the aorta.
The surgery is simple and easy. It takes half the time of the traditional method. More importantly, there is no anticoagulation therapies involved.