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Dr. Joe Fisher
“I think that this device has several roles in the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Dr. Joe Fisher, a Toronto General Hospital anesthesiologist, University of Toronto professor and co-founder of the company which manufactures the portable intensive care unit and ventilator. “The first role is to help with a surge in supply – if you want to open up a new ICU bed, all you need is this and a stretcher, and you can do that.” (Photo: U of T)

Thornhill Medical, a company that got its start at UHN, manufactures a portable ventilator that can help Canadian patients with COVID-19.

The portable intensive care unit, operated by battery power, has a ventilator, oxygen concentrator and can perform vital signs monitoring, among other features.

Originally developed to treat members of the military who had been critically injured and were in need of transport, the technology will now be used to assist patients who need life support due to the current global pandemic, says Dr. Joe Fisher, an anesthesiologist at Toronto General Hospital and a professor in the department of anesthesiology and pain medicine in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto (U of T).

Dr. Fisher is co-founder of Thornhill Medical, which manufactures the device. He is a Director of the company, as is Dr. Ludwik Fedorko, a TGH anesthesiologist who is an associate professor at U of T.

“I think that this device has several roles in the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Fisher. “The first role is to help with a surge in supply – if you want to open up a new ICU bed, all you need is this and a stretcher, and you can do that.”

Thornhill Medical, which was spun off from UHN in 2003 to commercialize the ideas of Drs. Fisher, Fedorko and a group of founding engineers, was cited by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this month as one of the Canadian innovators who will be helping fight the pandemic.

There have been widespread concerns expressed about the availability of ventilators for COVID-19 patients as the number of people who have contracted the disease continues to rise.

Providing life support and vital monitoring to those in dire circumstances

“Dr. Fisher and his colleagues have always thought ahead, ‘What if? What if these devices were needed to support large numbers of patients?’” says Dr. Beverley Orser, professor and chair of the department of anestesiology and pain management at U of T. "They have used their creativity, knowledge and ability to form teams to create these technologies so we can share them with the world.

“Dr. Fisher has always been committed to doing the right thing and sharing technology to support others. He is an incredible innovator.”

Fisher says his hope is that the device will provide life support and vital signs monitoring to those in dire circumstances.

“I think that its main function is to provide a compact platform to provide critical care,” he says. “It may also provide back-up care when there is no electricity and when no oxygen is available.”

There are other important features, he says.

“This was also designed with transport of patients in mind – such as if you need intra-hospital transport, to take a patient from the ICU bed to CT scan or to the operating room. Right now, it’s extremely challenging to do that,” says Fisher, adding that it takes a significant amount of effort by staff to move a patient.

“This device is easily attached to a hospital bed or stretcher, provides all the ICU functions to the patient and you just roll out the bed and can move them. If the patient needs to be transported to another hospital, it simply fits into the ambulance at the patient’s side, continuing the same level of life support.”

Thornhill is working with the Government of Canada and major auto parts manufacturers to rapidly scale-up production of its ventilator system.

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