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3rd June 2024

Breathing in gratitude

Douglas Forbes is no stranger to medical technology.

“I was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at 18 months old. As a young child, I was in and out of hospital with infections, which got more regular over time,” he tells This Is MedTech. “It got to the point where I had to take intravenous antibiotics during lunchtime at school.”

People with cystic fibrosis have a faulty gene that controls the movement of salt and water in and out of cells. This causes a build-up of thick sticky mucus in the lungs, digestive system and other organs. In addition to lung infections, the rare disease can affect a person’s pancreas, liver, bones and other parts of their body.

“It was difficult to maintain my health at university and I also developed CF-related diabetes. I worked throughout my 20s, up until a year or so before my lung transplant, and then I became very unwell,” he says. “I was on 24-hour oxygen, with an NIV at night to breathe.” An NIV (non-invasive ventilator) device is a bedside machine with tubes and a mask worn during sleep.

He also needed regular physiotherapy, which was aided by a positive expiratory pressure device. “It was revolutionary. You breathe through a pipe with a heavy ball bearing that sends vibrations through your chest and creates resistance when you breathe out, clearing the mucus from your airways,” explains Douglas.

In addition, he used nebulisers daily to deliver medications to his lungs. The device changes a liquid medication into a mist so it can be breathed in. “The technology has changed so much over the years,” he comments. “The old ones were steam powered, massive and noisy. Now, they’re small, battery-powered and totally silent.”

While all of the above treatments were keeping Douglas going, there came a point when he needed a new pair of lungs. At 31, he underwent a double lung transplant that saved his life. “Although my recovery took four months and I had some complications, my lung function before and after the transplant was like night and day,” he notes. “I am forever grateful to my donor and his family.”

These days, Douglas is working again and spends much of his free time running around after his young son. He has regular lung function tests in hospital and he also uses a spirometer at home to measure his function. “It’s connected to my phone via Bluetooth and gives the same readout as I’d get in the lab. I can also send the data to the medical team,” he points out.

“Fortunately, I have a continuous glucose monitor which has revolutionised diabetes care. Without it, my blood sugar would be much less controlled.”

As far as the medical technology that Douglas has found to be most beneficial over the long term, it’s been his portacath – a tube that’s implanted into his chest and provides a line to a large vein. “It’s quite basic, but it’s enabled me to have treatment when I need it and to draw blood, which used to be a nightmare because my veins are knackered. Having this has been life changing.”

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