A University of Canterbury engineering student has created a simplified tracheostomy kit – a tool that helps medical staff create a new airway for patients in an emergency – that can be deployed in half the time of the standard kit.
Francis Pooke’s design, which makes the tracheostomy process much simpler and reduces risk, won him Engineering New Zealand’s Student Engineer of the Year Award.
In a tracheostomy, a breathing tube is inserted into the trachea (windpipe) when the airway is blocked or compromised following a major injury. It’s critical for a patient’s survival, however, the procedure is rarely performed because of its complexity and the high rate of complications.
Pooke worked closely with Christchurch intensive care specialist Geoff Shaw on the design as part of his final year Bachelor of Engineering project. ‘Dr Shaw believed the complication rate of the tracheostomy procedure could be dramatically reduced by simplifying the current methods, which require multiple components and steps,’ he said. ‘The development process involved a lot of testing and end-user feedback from Dr Shaw. It took several versions before we achieved the final design, but in the end, I believe we’ve developed an innovative solution which has the potential to greatly improve how tracheostomies are performed.’
Pooke’s device, which is currently at the prototype stage and has been 3D printed,features only seven parts instead of the 12 that are in the current clinical kit. It makes the steps involved easier and more intuitive and halves the number of insertions and removals into the patient’s throat, which helps to reduce the risk of complications.
Pooke is now studying towards a PhD. His supervisor, UC Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering Geoff Chase, described the student as ‘an outstanding design engineer who has been really adept at working in partnership with a clinician to create a dramatically simplified approach to a complex procedure. I think the final product can save lives and is easily generalised to other tracheotomy devices.
‘This project shows the impact young engineers can have on real things with high costs in lives and dollars,’ he continued. ‘There are a wealth of opportunities throughout healthcare awaiting bright students like Francis with creative ideas.’ Pooke hopes to interest a medical-device company in further developing his kit and bringing it to market.