16-year-old devises system to save heart attack victims while on work experience

Sarah Knapton
Heart attack patients have often had open heart surgery but cardiologists often don't know the details  - Shutterstock

 

A 16-year-old teenager on work experience at Barts Hospital in London has devised an an award-winning system to save heart attack victims.

Ben Wald, 16, came up with the idea of surgeons inserting a 'code' into the chest of patients so that future doctors would know what happened during previous operations.

Around one in 10 heart attack patients have previously undergone open-heart bypass surgery but cardiologists are often forced to operate quickly without knowing the full details of where the heart has been 'replumbed' before. 

Without that knowledge it can be dangerous as doctors could end up operating at an unhelpful location.

Ben, an A-level student at Dulwich College, suggested that the surgeon could leave a message inside the patient's chest to indicate the number of heart grafts and their location.

With his father, cardiologist David Wald,  he devised a code using knots in the wires which close the breastbone after surgery.

In the technique the top wire points upwards, to show that the code is in use. All the other wires point downwards and to the left or right, giving information on how many grafts there are and where they are located.

Ben told The Evening Standard: "I noticed how in one case where the medical records were not available, there was confusion and a bit of uncertainty. 

"I could see that perhaps you could use these wires and sculpt them into something that could tell the cardiologist 10 years down the line what had happened at the original operation."

The code last month won a prize for innovation at the Society for Cardiothoracic Surgery and the idea will be presented at the British Cardiovascular Society annual conference in June.

Alex Shipolini, a cardiac surgeon at Barts, said: "This is unique idea that solves a common problem. I have used the code and it's easy to apply."

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