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
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Account Manager (Junior)

Negotiable: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Account Manager (Junior) Account ...

Solar Business Development Manager – M&A

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Accountant,Reconciliations,Bristol,Bank,£260/day

£200 - £260 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Accountant, Reconciliations, Bristo...

Test Analyst

£20000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An experienced Tes...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried