Who invented the defibrillator?

Who invented the defibrillator?

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From weighing more than the average adult to being portable in a small container, AEDs have come a long way. But how did they get their start and who invented them?

Dr. Frank Pantridge, CBE

The answer to that question and the invention of the defibrillator is credited to a man named Frank Pantridge, hailed as the father of emergency medicine.

He created the first portable defibrillator in 1965 and this first defibrillator was originally made to operate on car batteries and weighed a total of 150 pounds (~70kg). Born in Hillsborough, England he was a physician at the time working in the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Belfast. Doctors were looking for a product that would help save the lives of people who would suffer from coronary heart disease that was such a massive issue in the 1950s.

The first portable defibrillator that Pantridge made was to help in coronary care for patients before they arrived at the hospital. In creating the portable defibrillator, Pantridge had it installed inside of an ambulance allowing the EMTs at the time to start issuing and using the defibrillator right away on patients who needed it. The idea to create the defibrillator came to Pantridge when studying the cause and location of coronary deaths in North America.

He found that most coronary deaths would occur suddenly and outside of the hospital. Pantridge also found that most coronary deaths resulted from ventricular fibrillation. This in turn led Pantridge to understand that ventricular defibrillation needed to be corrected where it was occurring, however in order to correct the ventricular fibrillation you need a defibrillator which was only able to be used in the hospital via the hospital’s electricity supply and was a very large machine.

Pantridge acknowledged and believed in the use of Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), however, and was aware that if ventricular fibrillation was to sustain for long periods of time, long-term damage and death were more likely to occur.

Hence the need for a portable defibrillator. There was also the issue of people who were not doctors using the defibrillator at the wrong time or when not necessary for use so Pantridge developed a fail-safe that would only allow for the defibrillator to work if there was ventricular defibrillation detected.

These issues that Pantridge set out to solve are what led to the invention of the portable defibrillator. Without the early version of the portable defibrillator that was installed in ambulances, we would not have the defibrillators that we do today. Today, it is estimated that defibrillators are responsible for saving around 3,500 people in the United States of America each year with the large access that the general public has to defibrillators.

Defibrillators can be found in every public area and in all private businesses such as restaurants, grocery stores, and so on. It is astounding the impact the invention of the defibrillator has had on the world and a true blessing to be able to save so many lives.


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