Imagine the dilemma of a doctor who has to share the news with the parents of a small child that their child has a heart failure and there is nothing that the doctor can do. Luckily our medical and engineering experts have joined hands to invent life-saving devices for children suffering from heart failures.
When a child suffers from a heart failure the doctors need to buy some time for the child’s heart to recover, or perform a surgery to try and correct the heart problem, or wait for someone to donate an organ. For the doctor to do this, the child has to live for few days on some device that can perform the function of heart.
A device called “Berlin Heart” was invented by a team of medical experts working with Dr. Roland Hetzer in Berlin, Germany in 2005. It is basically an external pump the size of a palm with two tubes at one end and one tube at the other. It works with the child’s own real heart, helping it to function better until a donor organ can be found for transplant.
Two pumps are required to do the function of a heart. The first one pumps the bad blood (blood without oxygen) that comes in the heart from the body to the lungs. The blood gets purified after getting oxygen from the lungs. The second one is used to pump this good blood (blood with oxygen) to the body from the heart. This device can work for few days and keep the child alive while the doctors can get time to operate or monitor the real heart. Berlin Heart is now available in various sizes to match the requirements of different aged children.
According to KBPS news (2012), “Since it was introduced, 1000 children worldwide have used the Berlin heart.” It is a life saver device, but it has got some design flaws. It is sometimes risky for some children. It causes blood clots, which lead to strokes in at least one out of every four kids.
Mechanical engineers at UC San Diego are trying to come up with a better design. An assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering Alison Marsden says, "I think the patterns of blood flow in surgeries and devices are really interesting from an engineering point of view. Also, I enjoy working on those problems, because of their immediate application to sort human problems and in patient care."
Many engineers like Marsden are applying their engineering skills to make a difference in the world of medicine. Isn’t it amazing to think about the joint efforts of the doctors to find a problem and team up the engineers to find a solution? It is all about dedicated teamwork and hard work. May be when I grow up I will be able to make my own contribution to the world of medical engineering.