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Embolectomy Balloon Catheter
Thomas J. Fogarty, as physician and professor, inventor and entrepreneur, has saved tens of millions of lives --- most notably, by pioneering the tools and methods of less invasive vascular surgery.
Fogarty was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was a precocious child, with both mechanical ability and business instincts. His earliest efforts were in designing and building soapbox derby racers and model airplanes, the latter of which he sold to kids in his neighborhood. Soon, he upgraded to a motor scooter; and when he became frustrated with its gears, he build (and sold) a centrifugal clutch that it still used today in some simple motors.
Fogarty's interest in medicine dates from the eighth grade, when he took a job as an equipment cleaner and later scrub technician at Cincinnati's Good Samaritan Hospital. In the latter position, Fogarty was frequently able to observe surgeries --- and the problems surgeons encountered. By the time he graduated from high school, Fogarty knew that his calling was to make surgery simpler, cheaper, faster and safer through technology.
Before he earning his MD in 1960 from the University of Cincinnati Medical School, Fogarty had designed his most significant invention. The FogartyŽ Balloon Embolectomy Catheter is, like many revolutionary inventions, simple in concept. It is a catheter (hollow tube) about the width of a pencil, with a small balloon at its tip: the catheter is inserted through an incision into a blood vessel, and pressed through an embolus (blood clot); then the balloon is inflated, so that when the catheter is extracted, the balloon drags the clot out with it. Fogarty build the prototype in his attic, attaching the fingertip of a latex surgical glove to a catheter using fly-tying techniques familiar to him from boyhood fishing expeditions.
In 1969 Fogarty patented his device (#3,435,826), which is now marketed by Edwards Lifesciences Corp. It has been used in over 300,000 procedures every year, all over the world. The catheter was a great improvement on previous embolectomy methods. First, it does not cut off blood flow, increasing the risk of the patient's losing a limb; and second, the entire procedure can be performed in one hour through a single small incision, instead of using many larger incisions and forceps, with the patient under general anesthesia for hours.
Fogarty's balloon catheter procedure was the first successful examples of "less invasive" (and so, less traumatic) vascular surgery. Since its introduction, Fogarty and others have developed numerous spin-off applications: for example, the first balloon angioplasty, performed with a Fogarty catheter in 1965, has led to over 650,000 such operations per year. Fogarty has also adapted his catheter to less invasive biopsy techniques.
In order to produce these and other medical tools he has invented --- for example, the FogartyŽ Aortic Stent-Graft --- Fogarty has founded a number of companies. He also provides venture capital to other medical device inventors devoted to solving "real-life clinical problems." In the 1990s, Fogarty became a Professor of Surgery at Stanford University Medical Center. As if this were not enough, Fogarty has also founded an award-winning vineyard: Thomas Fogarty Winery, outside of Palo Alto, California.
To date, Thomas Fogarty has personally earned 63 patents, with many others pending. He has authored or co-authored over 150 professional articles, and is a member of 29 professional societies. He has won a series of prestigious awards, including the San Francisco Patent and Trademark Association's Inventor of the Year (1980).
Most recently, Fogarty won the 2000 Lemelson-MIT Prize: at $500,000, the world's greatest single award for invention. Fogarty was honored at the sixth annual Lemelson-MIT Awards Ceremony, held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York on April 27, 2000.