Skip to contents
In This Issue:
Responsible for more than 24,000 patient care devices—from electrocardiogram machines and infusion pumps to patient monitors and anesthesia equipment—BWH Biomedical Engineering’s work extends far and wide across the hospital and its distributed campus.
In addition to serving BWH through day-to-day technology maintenance and upgrades, the department has championed many patient care improvements over the years, with perhaps one of the most notable being the invention of the first iron lung.
In 1927, chemical engineer Philip Drinker, PhD, invented the iron lung, a respiratory chamber in which patients lie and receive breathing support. Drinker first used the device, which is now housed at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, to save a polio victim at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in collaboration with Children’s Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health in 1929.
Years later, Drinker’s son—also Philip Drinker, PhD,—picked up his father’s torch and continued to support patients at the Brigham using the iron lung. In 1975, he started the Clinical Engineering Service at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, which evolved into the current Department of Biomedical Engineering. The younger Drinker, who is now retired, served as director and collaborated with former Director John Lehr, PhD, on various respiratory research projects, including Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) and high frequency ventilation.
“Many of us in Biomed refer to Dr. Drinker as the ‘gentleman biomedical engineer,’” said BWH engineer Philip Levine, CBET, who worked with Drinker for many years. “He placed the well-being of patients first and foremost in everything he did. He set a high bar for personal and professional excellence, and how he related to people was an example to everyone.”
Added Director of Anesthesia Bioengineering James Philip, MEE, MD, CCE: “Phil had an insightful understanding of the technological needs of patients and caregivers, leading him to solve many health problems of the time. Today, led by Director L. Michael Fraai, MS, CCE, the department continues the legacy of problem-solving across many clinical domains.”
Biomedical Engineering has grown significantly since being led by Drinker, who recently reunited with friends and former colleagues for lunch. Though Biomedical Engineering is now much larger and the technology has changed, patient safety remains its greatest focus.
“Drs. Drinker and Lehr’s contributions helped set the groundwork for Biomed’s direction,” Fraai said. “Today, there are fast-paced technological changes, but we continue to collaborate with clinicians for safe, efficient and effective technology selection.”