Thomas Khairy is the main author of an article entitled Infections Associated with Pacemakers and Sterilized Defibrillators published earlier this month.
Thomas worked with researchers at the Heart Institute of Montreal, who are conducting a long-term project that sends used pacemakers and defibrillators to patients in need in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Cuba and Ecuador.
When MHI researchers did not know how many lives had been saved by their work to resterilize machines taken from deceased people for reuse in others, Thomas struggled to find out. After setting up a database that tracks all recipients – 1,748 in total – he came up with the idea of studying the safety of resterilization in terms of infection rates.
The study included 1,051 recipients and he and the team compared each of their results with three patients in Canada using new pacemakers or defibrillators. The survey, the first of its kind, concluded that infection rates between the two groups "did not differ significantly".
The late Dr. Rafael Castan founded Montreal's Heart to Heart cardiac device reuse program in 1983.
Castan, who saw medical conditions in his native Dominican Republic, decided to use life-saving cardiac devices that would normally be discarded and put them back in others that could not pay for them.
Thomas produced a science fair project about the initiative when he was 12 and says it was never his plan to be published. He just tried to prove the safety of the MHI's humanitarian effort.
"Although we achieved that goal, everything that happened next is unbelievable and I never saw it happen," said Thomas on CTV's Your Morning Friday. He hopes this will lead to further re-sterilization and reuse of medical devices.
Thomas comes to your interest and aptitude naturally. Her father is the MHI cardiologist, Dr. Paul Khairy, who was part of the MHI team on the project, along with cardiologists from Central America.
Thomas says that the help he received in accumulating accurate data was the reason he can meet the demanding publication standards of the New England Journal of Medicine. It was the MHI team who led the task of publishing the research, but they warned Thomas not to hope.
The teenager spent about a year writing and rewriting and then going back and forth with NEJM editors to prove the accuracy of the data.
Even more difficult was to keep the news of his friends' publication secret while they remained under embargo. Receiving an email saying it would be published while traveling on a school bus for a class tour months ago was the "best time of my life", but he had to pretend, at least for a while, that it didn't.
CTVNews.ca sought to find out if Thomas is the youngest to be published on NEJM. A spokesman said by email: "It is impossible to know if he is the youngest, but we think he must be among the youngest".
Thomas also presented his research at a science fair at his private school in Montreal, receiving a perfect grade of 100%. The project also won a silver medal at the 2018 Canada-Wide Science Fair final.
He is now focused on getting good grades and entering medical school and starting a path to becoming a doctor. In September, he begins his studies in health sciences at Marianopolis College, a private college in Westmount, Que.
He has his eye on training in cardiology at the Montreal Institute of Health in the future, but is still not committing himself.