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Defibrillator prototype by Ulster medic still in working order 50 years on

By Laura Abernethy

This is the prototype of a Northern Ireland invention which has saved thousands of lives across the world and although it's 50 years old it still works.

Norman Kerr, a private collector from Banbridge, acquired the early portable defibrillator after its Hillsborough-born inventor Professor Frank Pantridge left it to an acquaintance when he died in 2004.

Professor Pantridge installed his life-saving invention in an ambulance in 1965 and Mr Kerr believes that his defibrillator may be the second prototype developed by the man who became known as "the father of emergency medicine".

The first device weighed 70kg and was powered by car batteries. A later model that he released in 1968 weighed just 3kg. Mr Kerr's model weighs around 25kg, leading him to believe it was the second prototype ever made.

Mr Kerr said: "I would say it's the oldest surviving model. Once they became more modern, the older ones were disposed of but this one was probably kept by Professor Pantridge as a memento."

The device now has pride of place amongst the vast array of items that Mr Kerr has been collecting for his entire life.

"I'm a collector of historic items. You only get one opportunity to pick a thing up and I was just able to get the defibrillator and restore it", he added.

Although he has never had to try it, Mr Kerr believes that the defibrillator still works.

He said: "I'm afraid to try it. If you had to use it, you would want a more modern one but the charger and everything is there for it and it has all the appearance that it will work. There's no reason why it wouldn't."

Mr Kerr has collected hundreds of items but he is well aware of the significance of this particular piece.

Even today, 1,400 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur in Northern Ireland each year. Millions more happen across the world.

Following an attack, the chance of survival is 5% with CPR alone but this can increase to 50% if the patient is shocked quickly with a defibrillator.

Through the invention of the defibrillator and the Pantridge Plan, which encouraged a roll-out of the device in all ambulances, Professor Pantridge has helped to save millions of lives across the world.

Mr Kerr added: "There were huge defibrillators in hospitals but he pioneered the idea that these should be in ambulances.

"When you look at the defibrillator in terms of its era, it was ahead of its time. It wasn't until the 1980s that the first PC was made. It was still a time when you had to use a dialphone but he built this."

Mr Kerr will preserve the portable defibrillator prototype and he occasionally lends it to exhibitions. He said: "It's important to save these things. The defibrillator could have become scrap but I've saved it now."

Born in 1916, Professor Pantridge served as a soldier in World War Two and was held as a Prisoner of War.

When he was liberated, he worked as a lecturer in the pathology department at Queen's University Belfast.

His research showed that the majority of cardiac deaths happened before the patient even reached the hospital and understood that something needed to be done earlier.

Professor Pantridge put together a device that would allow anyone who was having a heart attack to be shocked in an ambulance.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph