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Hazem Fallouh, a Syrian Surgeon in Britain, Wins Award for Innovation

Ten years ago, Hazem Fallouh, a Syrian doctor who was training in Britain, had difficulty diagnosing the symptoms of a patient who had undergone open heart surgery. The patient’s health deteriorated because the complex scanning devices needed to monitor her condition did not exist at the time.

The woman’s case got Fallouh thinking, and he eventually designed a device that helps in the early detection of internal hemorrhage that patients are susceptible to after cardiac surgery. The device detects whether the patient needs more surgery or medication.

Fallouh, who originally studied medicine at the University of Aleppo in Syria, is now a surgeon at Birmingham Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in the English Midlands. In October, he won the 2021 Techno College Innovation Award of the European Association for Cardio-Thoracic Surgery for his device.

Fallouh’s invention was up against 12 other devices submitted by contenders from Europe and other countries, including leading medical technology companies. In congratulating Fallouh, the association said his device was “a great achievement in the field of medicine.”

Hazem Fallough’s invention can help doctors decide quickly whether a patient is experiencing cardiac tamponade, a dangerous condition that occurs when extra fluid or blood builds up in the space between the heart and the pericardium.

An Aid in Quick Decisions

In an interview with Al-Fanar Media, Fallouh explained that his device determines the volume available to the heart within the pericardium, the membrane surrounding it, when the sac fills with blood. It also measures the volume of blood pumped by the heart, another measure doctors rely on when they treat a patient after surgery.

Fallouh’s device helps in the early diagnosis of cardiac tamponade, a dangerous condition which occurs when extra fluid or blood builds up in the space between the heart and the pericardium. The extra fluid puts pressure on the heart and stops it from pumping enough blood to the rest of the body. Cardiac tamponade is the largest cause of cardiac arrest after surgery, occurring in 5 to 8 percent of cases.

Doctors monitoring a patient after surgery may have difficulty diagnosing tamponade because the symptoms can look like any other heart failure, Fallouh said.

His invention is a balloon and pressure-measuring probe that are placed inside the patient’s body at the end of the surgical procedure before closure of the chest. He told Al-Fanar Media that the device helps doctors make a quick decision about whether the patient needs more surgery or other therapeutic interventions.

Hazem Fallouh trained at the University of Aleppo before emigrating to Britain for advanced studies.
Hazem Fallouh trained at the University of Aleppo before emigrating to Britain for advanced studies.

Fallouh, who is 48, moved to Britain in 2000, two years after graduating in Aleppo. He had to pass the British Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board’s test before starting his fellowship training in 2005. He also began research at that time that led to a Ph.D. from King’s College London in 2008. In his doctoral research, Fallouh created a medicinal solution to stop the heart during surgery without the patient suffering any side effects.

Fallouh explained that elective temporary cardiac arrest is often required during heart surgery. An earlier treatment in use since the 1970s could have harmful effects on cardiac cells, he said.

‘An Amazing New Device’

Joel Dunning, a British consultant surgeon at the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesborough, in northern England, praised Fallouh’s latest device.

“This innovation will be an amazing new device that can save lives,” he told Al-Fanar Media.  “We look forward to introducing it to all clinicians and training them to use it in the care of patients after heart surgery, once being approved for use.”

“This innovation will be an amazing new device that can save lives. We look forward to introducing it to all clinicians and training them to use it in the care of patients after heart surgery, once being approved for use.”

Joel Dunning
A British consultant surgeon who developed a global protocol for resuscitation of the patient after cardiac surgery

Dunning has himself developed a global protocol for resuscitation of the patient after cardiac surgery, and is chair of the Committee on the Development of Resuscitation after Cardiac Surgery for the U.S.-based Society of Thoracic Surgeons.

He called Fallouh’s innovation “a brilliant idea” that that gives doctors a new way to monitor for cardiac embolism, a medical emergency that occurs when the pericardial cavity fills with fluid.

Dunning said that doctors now monitor this through the installation of a catheter in the right atrium, a method he called “totally inadequate.”

Supporting Research in the Arab World

Hazem Fallouh is now preparing to conduct research on lung and diaphragm cancer. He also wants to support medical research in cardiothoracic surgery in the Arab world by establishing research centres and supporting researchers financially.

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There are many talented Arab scientists in cardiothoracic surgery, he said, but they need to be supported with full-time scholarships so they can devote themselves to medical research in their specialisation.

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