WHAT'S THIS EX-MECHANIC DOING IN A HOSPITAL OPERATING ROOM?

He builds machines that help save lives—as a debt of gratitude to those who rescued him from cancer

MICHAEL IRVING July 2 1966

WHAT'S THIS EX-MECHANIC DOING IN A HOSPITAL OPERATING ROOM?

He builds machines that help save lives—as a debt of gratitude to those who rescued him from cancer

MICHAEL IRVING July 2 1966

WHAT'S THIS EX-MECHANIC DOING IN A HOSPITAL OPERATING ROOM?

He builds machines that help save lives—as a debt of gratitude to those who rescued him from cancer

MICHAEL IRVING

HENRY GARSIDE’S confrontation with death in 1955 haunted him long after it was over. There he was, thirty-six, not long married, a mechanic who'd become a key executive in the aircraft industry — and doctors found he had a cancer which, by the time it was diagnosed, had already eaten away part of his intestines. It seemed inoperable and Garside tried to reconcile himself to death. But surgeons tried anyway, and to their own wonderment they succeeded.

So Henry Garside went back to work, knowing that if you live for five years alter a cancer operation, then statistically your chances of survival are considerably increased. He was, he thought, lucky to get even a couple of years. But as the fifth year passed, and then the sixth, he began to believe he might even live a normal span. And then he began to be troubled, as he puts it, “by a conscience that said I owed a great debt — my lite, no less — to medical science and society, and 1 decided it was time I started paying off.”

BY NOW HE was in business for himself as a management consultant, but he abandoned this career — and says he also took a ten -to - twelve - thousand - dollar - a - year cut in income — to join the team of surgeons and physicians then being gathered to conduct an orthopedic research program from the basement of St. Joseph's Hospital in Toronto. A friend had suggested that Garside, who had expressed interest in research, seek a place on the team, and when he applied, Dr. George Pennal, president of the hospital’s research foundation, was enthusiastic. Medical research groups have long speculated on the possible value of engineers in medical science, though few research groups can afford to pay them as well as industry does. But here was Garside, a man who had succeeded as an engineer despite his lack of university education, prepared to work for the love of it rather than for the pay (which remains a secret between Garside and Dr. Pennal).

Since Garside is something of a pace-setter

by even being in medical research, his duties were from the start something of a mystery. He has no title (a joke among his surgeon colleagues says Garside's work is “indescribable") and no specified tasks. His job is to contribute to the research project, using his intelligence, common sense and mechanical engineering know-how to help medical science develop better ways to diagnose and treat bone diseases and defects.

Garside has, says Dr. Pennal, “an insatiable appetite for knowledge and has become a very valuable member of our team-’: he has, in fact, used his engineering skills to devise two pieces of new equipment which surgeons say are of tremendous value in their work. He has also begun to preach what seems an almost heretical approach to medical research: he argues it can be made financially self-supporting— a proposal that has set his colleagues back on their heels, since they’re accustomed to pleading for grants to finance their projects.

One of the devices Garside has developed is a hydraulic machine that may be unique: it measures the stresses that any part of the human muscular-skeletal system can stand, by simulating the movements, motions and strains a normal person places upon his body. In these tests the researchers use what they euphemistically call “autopsy specimens ’ corpses donated for research purposes. And by inducing orthopedic conditions in these bodies (slipped discs, for instance) and then testing them on Garside’s equipment, surgeons can determine the type of treatment or surgery most likely to be successful.

The other piece of equipment Garside has produced is a new surgical drill which, at around five hundred dollars, is about half the price of comparable equipment commercially available; yet it is said to be a significant improvement on existing surgical drills since it enables surgeons to perform certain orthopedic operations with much more accuracy than was possible before.

To cap it all, Garside last year went into the movie business on behalf of his fellow researchers. The foundation wanted to make a film demonstrating the work of the team.

emphasizing the contribution of the two pieces of equipment Garside had developed. But estimates from commercial film companies were, says Garside, “five times as high as our budget could stand.” So with borrowed equipment, he produced his own film, Stress Studies Of The Lumbar Spine. It is now on a world tour of hospitals and research centres, and has also been shown to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the British Orthopedic Association and a comparable group in Holland. He plans to make more low-budget films.

ALE THIS THEN, is part of the “indescribable” work Henry Garside does for medical research. He is, say his surgeon colleagues, able to turn his hand to anything. Dr. Pennal, the research foundation chief, believes that in one area of research, stress studies of the lower spine, “Garside already knows more than I do. And in the practical application of orthopedic devices, the modification and improvement of existing equipment and the development of new equipment and ideas, Garside's advice is most valuable.”

Garside disclaims any right to high praise. “What I know I’ve learned through the patience and teaching of the doctors and surgeons I’ve worked with, and through their forebearance while I’ve poked my nose into their business and even stood and watched while they operated on patients. All I've done in return is to apply to medicine the techniques and formulas of a practical mechanic trained in the aircraft industry, and that’s a complex enough business.”

Garside was employed in the aircraft industry when, one day at his summer cottage, he began to suffer acute stomach pains. Within two weeks doctors had diagnosed cancer. “I thought I was a goner,” recalls Garside. “I don’t suppose there are many words that strike as much quaking fear in big grown men as that word ‘cancer.’ ” He was admitted to Toronto General Hospital. There he was examined by Dr. Norman Shenstone, a renowned surgeon, who postponed a Florida holiday to head the surgical team that operated on Garside.

They removed his

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in the sacrosanct principle of free exchange of medical and scientific knowledge among doctors or even nations. He does, however, suggest there are ways in which the sideproducts of research can be used profitably. “For instance,” he says, “if a research team develops a new piece of equipment they rarely take out patents, and so that same equipment can be produced and marketed at a profit by commercial firms. So why not take out a patent and get some money? Some firms make orthopedic mattresses and beds, so why shouldn’t our research team charge for advising them and perhaps testing the beds? This way, researchers wouldn't always be going cap-in-hand to the authorities for money.”

Dr. Pennal greets this idea with caution characteristic of his profession. But he does admit that a doctor or hospital, responsible for developing new equipment, gets nothing when the equipment is marketed. “It would require considerable capital for us to market patents and get into business,” he says.

Garside, on the other hand is convinced it can and will be done. “We need a quarter of a million dollars,” he says. “But that money would put orthopedic research on a business footing, and if I can help do that I'll be able to feel I’ve made some contribution to our society and economy.”

But money, or the lack of it, doesn’t bother Henry Garside personally. “What I make in research is peanuts compared to what I did make — and could again, I think — in industry. But I’m happy doing this job, whatever the pay. It’s enough to live on, and I feel richer than I ever have before.” ★