Professor Frank Pantridge

Inventor of the portable defibrillator

In the United Kingdom, 270,000 people suffer a heart attack each year, and a third of them die before reaching hospital. Frank Pantridge invented the portable defibrillator, which delivers a controlled electric shock to the heart and as a treatment for heart attack saves the lives of 40 per cent of under-65s it is used on. It can be stored in ambulances, ships, planes, etc, and can therefore be used with less delay and operated by amateurs. Used worldwide, it has saved thousands of lives. Pantridge is regarded as the father of emergency medicine, and he also did much to develop pre-hospital coronary care.

James Francis Pantridge, cardiologist: born Hillsborough, Co Down 3 October 1916; MC 1942; staff, Royal Victoria Hospital and Queen's University Belfast 1945-82, Honorary Professor of Cardiology 1982-2004; Research Fellow, University of Michigan 1948-49; Director, Regional Medical Cardiology Centre, Northern Ireland 1977-82; CBE 1978; died Hillsborough 26 December 2004.

In the United Kingdom, 270,000 people suffer a heart attack each year, and a third of them die before reaching hospital. Frank Pantridge invented the portable defibrillator, which delivers a controlled electric shock to the heart and as a treatment for heart attack saves the lives of 40 per cent of under-65s it is used on. It can be stored in ambulances, ships, planes, etc, and can therefore be used with less delay and operated by amateurs. Used worldwide, it has saved thousands of lives. Pantridge is regarded as the father of emergency medicine, and he also did much to develop pre-hospital coronary care.

James Frank Pantridge was born in Hillsborough, Co Down, in 1916, into a family of small landowners. His father died when he was 10. Problems with authority, which were to dog his life, started at an early age and he was expelled from several schools before completing his secondary education at Lisburn Friends' School.

Despite further clashes with authority he graduated in medicine near the top of his year and qualified as a doctor at Queen's University, Belfast, in 1939. He was given a coveted house job at the Royal Victoria Infirmary - known as the Vic - but left to enlist in the Army, although conscription was voluntary in Northern Ireland.

He was sent to Singapore and, having lost no time in falling out with his boss at the military hospital, was seconded to the Gordon Highlanders in Changi. He was awarded the Military Cross in 1942 with the citation:

This officer worked unceasingly under the most adverse conditions of continuous bombing and shelling and was an inspiring example to all with whom he came into contact. He was absolutely cool under the heaviest fire.

When Singapore fell on 1 February 1942 the order came to surrender. It is said that Pantridge, along with other medical officers, eased the death of men who were too badly injured to be evacuated. He spent the rest of the Second World War in the slave labour camps of the Burma-Siam railway, including some months in the Tanbaya death camp, where few survived.

Pantridge survived cardiac beriberi, where protein deficiency damages the heart, which is usually fatal, and which may have ignited his interest in heart disease. His experience in the prison camps undoubtedly scarred him mentally as well as physically. He was appalled at the Japanese guards' cruelty, and applauded Harry Truman's decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan.

In 1945 Pantridge returned to Belfast and took the only job available to him, as a part-time lecturer in the university's anatomy department. He went on to research cardiac beriberi. Three years later he won a research fellowship to the University of Michigan, where he worked with the world's leading expert on the electrical measurement of heart disease, Frank Wilson, cardiologist to President Lyndon Johnson. Later, Pantridge's defibrillator was used on Johnson when he had a heart attack.

Pantridge returned again to Belfast in 1949 and was appointed physician at the Royal Victoria Hospital, known as the Vic. He brought with him the operation of mitral valvotomy, and was given the task of evaluating a huge backlog of patients with congenital or rheumatic heart disease for which surgery had become available. He had no interest in coronary artery disease.

One day in late 1960 or early 1961, the chief of medicine, Professor Graham Bull, suggested that it was important to get medical aid swiftly to heart- attack victims. Pantridge responded in his characteristic style:

This is yet another of the many idiotic ideas which emanate with monotonous regularity from the Professor of Medicine, who thinks it is possible to achieve immortality for patients with coronary artery disease.

Bull realised that defibrillation should be available where it occurred, which was at home, in the street, at work, or in an ambulance. Pantridge did a U-turn and went on to design the first portable defibrillator, in 1965. He installed it into an ambulance that was converted into a mobile coronary care unit, with trained staff to operate it. Within the first 15 months, he recorded 10 successful resuscitations and a 50 per cent long-term survival rate.

At 70kg, the weight of an average man, it wasn't all that portable, but, after the usual 10-15 years of scepticism, it was fitted into every UK ambulance in what came to be called the Pantridge Plan, and it saved lives. Belfast acquired a reputation as the best place in the world to have a heart attack. Later, Pantridge went on to refine the machine using a capacitor designed by Nasa, and it now weighs 3kg.

Pantridge argued that there should be one beside every fire extinguisher, as life was more important than property. Aware that it could be dangerous if misused, he incorporated a fail- safe mechanism that successfully identified a patient's heart rhythm and automatically decided whether a shock is necessary.

Frank Pantridge was awarded Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians in 1957, and appointed CBE in 1978. He remained at the Vic until he retired in 1982, having established a cardiology unit with an international reputation. He opposed the introduction of coronary by-pass surgery, but later underwent it himself.

Pantridge was the author of The Acute Coronary Attack (1975) and an autobiography, An Unquiet Life (1989), published privately, which went into a fourth edition in 1995. He was an irascible man on a good day, often apoplectic, rode roughshod over his juniors, and was fond, perhaps too fond, of wining and dining. He would monopolise a conversation and walk away when he had said what he wanted. On one occasion he took a colleague out to dinner and next morning dictated a letter to their MP, William van Straubenzee, saying what a good chap Pantridge was, and asked the colleague to sign it.

Despite all this, he could be loyal, witty and generous. He deserved a knighthood and it was probably his cantankerousness that prevented it. America, in contrast, recognised his work. His friends thought that a good woman would sort him out, but he never married and became reclusive in his old age.

Caroline Richmond



PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
films
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game