A Heart for Invention

Stens inventor Dr. Thomas Fogarty with a model of the human heartDr. Thomas Fogarty with a model of the human heart.

Until fairly recently, trouble with the pump that keeps us going used to mean that surgeons had to cut the body open and try to fix the problem hands-on – a risky and traumatizing affair, even if all went well. Then a brilliant young heart specialist had a couple of ideas that have saved many lives: first, Dr. Thomas Fogarty invented an inflatable catheter that could be inserted into the body without major surgery, allowing doctors to remove blood clots in a safer, faster way. Later, he came up with a new way to strengthen weakened blood vessels before they might collapse – the Fogarty Stent Graft, an implant intended to prevent aneurysms.

Q: Is repairing the body with the help of minimally invasive technology the future, rather than flat-out surgery or taking pills?

A: It is the future, there’s no doubt about it in my mind. The question I have is, why didn’t this happen earlier? The reason is that surgeons are taught to do the same thing in the same way, all the time. There’s a deterrent to doing new things.

With some 150 patents to his name, Dr. Fogarty might seem too busy to pay much attention to the grandeur of nature outside his office in Mountain View, California. But actually, he’s a renowned winemaker as well, owning a vineyard in the nearby Santa Cruz mountains. (A fitting enterprise, I suppose, given wine’s demonstrated benefits in preventing heart disease, when drunk in moderation.) I had a chance to meet Dr. Fogarty for a Q&A about medicine and invention in Earlybird Magazine no. 2/2009, which is available as a free download.


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