Northern Ireland

Professor Frank Pantridge: The forgotten man of defibrillation?

frank pantridge
Image caption Frank Pantridge invented the portable defibrillator in 1965

He is the Hillsborough-born doctor best known for developing the portable defibrillator - but has his influence been forgotten?

Professor Frank Pantridge would have been 100 years old in 2016.

The doctor died in 2004, but his contribution to cardiology lives on in hospitals, sports clubs and public places.

He invented the portable defibrillator in 1965 while working at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

One of the earliest models of the device can be found tucked away in a farmhouse in Laurencetown, County Down.

'Walk on'

Norman Kerr, who owns a wide-ranging collection of inventions through the ages, said the defibrillator is "precious, a lovely article"

But, he added, many people do not realise the significance of the County Down man.

Image caption An early model of the portable defibrillator is in a farmhouse in Laurencetown, County Down

"50% of the people don't know. They walk on, they look, some will ask 'what's that?', others 'oh, defibrillator'," he said.

"The people who know, do read all about it and are very interested, probably because they have their own heart problems or they are in a sports club."

So has Prof Pantridge's name and legacy been lost amid the development of one of Northern Ireland's greatest medical exports?

"I think (the connection) has been lost, yes," Dr Sean Lucey, from the University of Liverpool, told BBC Radio Ulster.

"Pantridge, in some ways, isn't part of the wider story but his findings were absolutely key.

"His discoveries did have a dramatic impact in the long run on defibrillation so I think, in some ways, he has been slightly ignored, both within Northern Ireland and at a wider level as well.

'Pocket defibrillator'

Image caption Mr Pantridge's invention operated from car batteries

"But I do think experts in cardiology do recognise it."

Before making his mark in cardiology, Prof Pantridge was a decorated soldier - the County Down man was awarded a Military Cross for his part in defending Singapore from Japanese forces in 1940.

By the 1960s, Prof Pantridge had moved into medicine and was developing his first portable defibrillator.

His first model operated from car batteries and variants of this are used across the world.

He went on to install his first portable defibrillator in an ambulance.

Speaking about his invention to BBC Radio Ulster in 1988, Prof Pantridge said he did not create the device for personal gain or prestige but simply to save lives.

"People were getting cardiac arrests in a situation where the heart stops. In the casualty department people were arriving dead, having died in the ambulance," he said.

"My objective was to have almost a pocket defibrillator if that was possible."

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