Winnipeg-born biomedical engineer joins illustrious group of thinkers in Inventors Hall of Fame

What do the inventor of the sports bra, the creator of Amazon’s warehouse robots, and a Winnipeg-born biomedical engineer all have in common?

They’re all inductees into the Washington, D.C.-based Inventors Hall of Fame for their pioneering ideas.

With his induction for the invention of the automatic surgical tourniquet, former Winnipegger Dr. Jim McEwen joins an illustrious list of names, including Henry Ford, Walt Disney, and the Wright Brothers.

McEwen told 680 CJOB his interest in the scientific side of health care came at a young age, when he watched his father living with the effects of polio.

“When I was six years old, my father got polio, part of that big polio epidemic just before the vaccine was widely used,” he said.

“I had a chance to see first-hand some of the opportunities to improve quality of life of people who had to cope with a disease or problem… and that’s what got me started.”

After getting a PhD in biomedical engineering, McEwen — now based in British Columbia — said he came across a hospital patient who had been undergoing treatment for a fracture and came out with paralysis in her arm.

“Everybody believed that shouldn’t have happened, myself included, so I began looking at what went wrong, and what could be done to make surgeries of this kind safer and more effective and more consistent.

“That got me onto the path of developing a new kind of tourniquet for surgery.”

McEwen used microprocessors and other electronics to help provide safe application of pressure to patients’ limbs, so surgeries could be performed over longer periods of time, with less danger to the patient.

“In the old days, or even in the military right now, you’ll see a band that’s wrapped around a limb and constructed until blood flow stops,” he said.

“Either the limb is amputated or surgery is performed. Often that results in damage to the limb, damage to the soft tissues, the muscle and the nerves.

“That’s in fact what happened to this patient.”

McEwen’s invention, however, measures limb occlusion pressure — the ideal pressure in a patient’s limb at a particular time — and keeps that pressure very uniform.

For his work, which has helped tens of thousands of patients, McEwen has already received the Order of Canada, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, and numerous honours from Canadian universities, but induction into the Inventors Hall of Fame is something different entirely.

“It’s great, however it’s the National  Inventors Hall of Fame, which is based in Washington,” he said. “There is no Canadian counterpart.

“There are many Canadians who have been recognized, like Banting and Best for their discovery of insulin. We need to do more of that in Canada.”

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