His Idea Ballooned Into Minimally Invasive Surgery

Minimally invasive surgery is common today, but that wasn’t the case when Dr. Thomas Fogarty was a high school student scrub technician at a hospital. There, he observed surgery to remove an embolism – or blood clot – blocking a blood vessel that involved multiple procedures and large incisions. This often resulted in amputation and death. Though only a teenager, Dr. Fogarty worked with surgeons at the hospital to improve on this procedure and improve patient outcomes. 

Dr. Fogarty designed a catheter, a hollow tube with a small balloon at the tip, that could be inserted through a small incision into the blocked artery.  The catheter could be moved through the artery through the clot, at which point the balloon would be inflated to enable the surgeon to move the clot through the artery and out of the body. The hospital staff began successfully using Dr. Fogarty’s catheter in the early 1960s, at a time when he had yet to graduate from medical school.

Like many innovators, Dr. Fogarty initially had difficulty convincing established companies to produce his invention. While completing his residency at the University of Oregon, Dr. Fogarty was introduced to a new medical device company by Dr. Al Starr, head of the hospital’s cardiothoracic division. The company committed to manufacturing the catheter in 1963 – five years after its initial invention. Dr. Fogarty, along with Dr. Starr and a doctor from the hospital where the device was first tested, worked closely with the company to develop the product for manufacturing. Since then, the catheter has been improved upon and ultimately used for other types of minimally invasive surgeries. Dr. Fogarty has continued to work with the same medical technology company on this and other innovations, with Dr. Fogarty holding more than 100 patents in surgical instrumentation. Inspired by his mentors, he now mentors others – instilling his same dedication to saving lives and limbs.