Engineer saves own life with home-made heart implant

Posted by Emma Woollacott

A British engineer is now walking around with a life-saving heart implant - that he designed and built himself.

Tal Golesworthy suffers from Marfan Syndrome, an inherited connective-tissue disorder that often causes weakness or rupturing in cardiac valves.

The standard treatment is the use of a mechanical aortic valve, which involves a heart-lung bypass, and the notoriously risky blood thinner Warfarin for the rest of his life.

So Golesworthy decided to try and go one better, and create an implant that would reduce the risk of blood clots and thus eliminate the need for blood thinners.

"To conceive of the idea of an external support was easy: there are any number of armchair inventors about. To build technical and commercial teams, raise the finance, run the project and volunteer to be the first patient was not so easy, particularly as I was trying to operate as a rational project manager when I knew the outcome of the project could have such a profound impact on my future health," he says.

"I was, and probably had to be, obsessive about the project and had to fight on any number of fronts to drive it along fast enough to benefit from it personally."

Golesworthy used MRI scanning and computer-aided design to create a tailor-made 'bandage' to support the aorta. His final External Aortic Root Support is constructed of polyethylene terephthalate, a standard medical plastic, and weighs less than five grams.

"So my view now? I take no prescription drugs, in particular I am not dependent on anti-coagulation," he says. "I am living a life so 'normal' that all the usual banalities have crowded in to irritate: work, money, the health of other family members, etc, but I have a freedom and emancipation that only an experience as profound as cardiothoracic surgery (or similar) can bring."

The implant has since been given to 23 other people.