PROFILE — This Montreal teen’s science project could save lives around the globe

Story by CBC Kids News • Published 2020-05-26 08:00

Making big change with pacemakers

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Thomas Khairy





Thomas Khairy, 15, is one of the youngest people ever to have his research published in the New England Journal of Medicine. (Submitted by Camille Turbide)

Claim to fame

Although most human hearts do their job well, some need a little help.

That’s why some people use pacemakers and implantable defibrillators.

They are devices that are surgically implanted when someone’s heart needs help pumping blood and maintaining its rhythm.

A pacemaker is shown as a small gadget with a tube attached to it

For people with heart conditions, pacemakers like the one pictured can mean the difference between life and death. (Eric Piermont/Getty Images)

Problem is, they’re expensive, making them hard to give to patients in countries that aren’t as wealthy as Canada.

But what if they were safe to reuse?

That’s exactly what 15-year-old Thomas Khairy wanted to find out.

And after three years of research, he has answers that could save lives.

How did he do it?

When he was 12, Thomas found out about the work of Montreal Heart Institute specialist Marie-Andrée Lupien, who has collected used pacemakers from Canadian patients to send to poorer countries like Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Honduras.

He decided he wanted to find out how safe it is to reuse these devices and made that the main objective for his school science project the following year.

I can only imagine how many lives could potentially be saved if more centres started sending these devices and participating in this humanitarian effort. - Thomas Khairy, age 15

After analyzing data from thousands of patients, Thomas found out that the rate of infection between patients with new pacemakers versus those with reused ones was the same.

In other words, he found out that pacemakers were indeed safe to reuse.

Thomas was inspired after working with Montreal Heart Institute specialist Marie-Andrée Lupien, left. (Submitted by Camille Turbide)

He submitted his findings to the New England Journal of Medicine but had low expectations that he’d ever be published.

Even Thomas’s father, a cardiologist, hadn’t ever been published in the journal.

Getting published

When the journal reached out to Thomas to give him the good news, they were surprised to find out he was only 15.

“I guess they did a bit of research and they found out that, 'Hey, this guy has the same name and he's a 15-year-old living in Montreal. Is this the guy?' And yeah, it was me," he recalled.

Now that his work is published, Thomas hopes that it will encourage more hospitals in Canada to send their reusable devices to countries in need and save lives.

What's next?

Thomas said that his dream is to one day work in medicine but he’s taking it one step at a time.

"My first step would have to be to get into med school. I'm not even there yet."

With files from Jason Vermes and Susan McKenzie/CBC.

Top Photo: (Submitted by Camille Turbide)

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