Home Depot heart surgery


Meet the doctor using DIY equipment for heart surgery

27th November 2014
By Alex O'Brien

Dr William (Billy) Cohn is a titan of heart surgery and artificial heart development at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston. Most of Cohn's pioneering artificial heart devices came out of his garage lab where, with materials sourced from Home Depot (or as he calls it, "the medical device prototyping headquarters"), he builds his experimental tools from readily available DIY products.

Cohn's first innovation as a doctor came out of a set of soup ladles and ordinary tablespoons, which he bought from his nearby supermarket and then modified in his workshop (pictured above): flattening the curved ends and then cutting out a square, so that, with the flattened end pressed against a diseased artery surgeons could operate through the cut-out area.

The Cohn Cardiac Stabiliser allowed surgeons to perform bypass surgery on a beating heart; something that had previously been impossible without a heart-lung machine.

Among his other workshop-lab inventions is a continuous-flow total artificial heart, built from fabric, polystyrene, plasterboard tape and silicon adhesive.

"The key to prototyping is to keep it cheap and simple," says Cohn. His mantra is that if you can't make it from everyday products and materials, "it can't be made". One hundred and thirty patents, a Thomas A Edison Silver Award for Excellence and IPO Distinguished Inventor of the Year prize later, Cohn's Home Depot engineering has saved thousands of lives.


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