”Necessity is the mother of invention.” Or is it just the midwife? Throw in some compassion, experience, frustration, and the willingness to pick up the nearest object and start tinkering, and you have a life-saver of a machine -the Universal Anesthesia Machine. Read on…
Picture this… you’re in a hospital emergency- or operating room with a life threatening ailment. The anesthesia machine can’t be used because it just broke down again and is too expensive to fix. The generator just broke down too, or ran out of fuel. Compressed oxygen is out of stock and won’t be replenished for at least a year because the money just isn’t there.
The nurse is searching desperately for some kind…any kind..of anesthesia in an operating room poorly lit by a headlamp attached to a battery.
Scary? By all means.
But this scenario was not taken from a teen movie thriller.
It is, to the contrary, a fact of life in low-income countries.
According to World Bank statistics, hospitals in low-income countries can be expected to see up to 18 power outages per month and 35 million surgeries per year without safe anesthesia. In some developing countries there may be one qualified anesthesiologist in the whole district, let alone the entire hospital. What’s more, the elaborate hi-tech systems bought from developed countries may be unsalvagable once they break.
The upshot of all this is horrible suffering and even death for un-anesthetized patients and an altogether hopeless situation…hopeless, that is, until Dr. Paul Fenton – chief of surgery in a Malawi hospital – decided to do something about it. He took a part here and a part there from all the super-sophisticated, large scale and ultimately unusable – for the reasons given above – machines that his hospital had acquired from industrialized countries.
What was the result of his daring and ingenuity?
12 years and many trials later, a solution that has enabled over 2,000 surgeries since 2010 with no clinically adverse events
It’s called the “The Universal Anesthesia Machine,” and here is why it is salvation in technological form for so many people.
Among its key features are:
1) Long life battery backup
2) Manual bellows that can keep a patient going for hours if electricity conks out.
3) Relatively easy to use – highly specialized and trained operators not necessary.
4) Virtually every piece can be replaced with simple around-the-home tools.
5) Its mounted on casters…one person can move it.
6) It’s only one-eighth the cost of conventional machines.
And – perhaps most importantly – it boasts a built-in oxygen concentrator that outputs a 95% oxygen yield from plain old room air that is only 21% oxygen.
Is the device perfect?
By no means; at least not yet. With the help of researchers at world-renowned John Hopkins University, though, a battery of tests is being carried out to make sure that all continues to go well.
But so far the prognosis for this patient – or patient saver, to be more precise – looks really, really good.
Hats off to you, Dr. Fenton!