Frank Pantridge – the Father of Emergency Medicine

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James Francis ‘Frank’ Pantridge was born on 3rd October 1916 in the small town of Hillsborough, not far from Belfast. His father was Robert James Pantridge a local famer and his mother was Elizabeth McCandles.

Frank’s father died when he was only 10. This may explain an unruly childhood that saw him expelled from school several times. However, Frank completed his secondary education at Friends’ School, Lisburn and went on to graduate from Queens University Belfast in 1939 with a degree in medicine.

World War 2

In 1940 Frank enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps. During the war, he was captured by Japanese forces during the Fall of Singapore. He was then made to work on the infamous Burma “Death” Railway. This infamous railway was built to transport supplies overland between Burma and Thailand. The 258-mile rail line was completed in just over one year at the cost of 13,000 Allied Prisoners of War, alongside 100,000 local workers from across the region. Pantridge was awarded the Military Cross “in recognition of the gallant and distinguished services in Malaya in 1942”.

Medical Career

Frank returned to Belfast after the war and lectured in the Pathology Department of Queens University before winning a scholarship to study under the eminent cardiologist, Dr F.N. Wilson at the University of Michigan.

By 1950 Frank Pantridge was back in Belfast employed as a cardiac consultant at the Royal Victoria Hospital. Together with his colleague, Dr John Geddes, he introduced cardiopulmonary resuscitation [CPR] for the initial treatment of heart attacks.

Animated CPR image from the American Heart Association
Animated CPR image
Credit: American Heart Association

As a result of this success, Frank went on to develop the portable defibrillator for use on a patient before hospital admission. Often known as “the Pantridge Plan”, the portable defibrillator is now seen as a key tool in medical emergencies and is a common sight in many public buildings. It has become adopted throughout the world and has saved countless lives.

Portable defibrillator on a wall
Portable defibrillator
Image by Tanja-Denise Schantz from Pixabay

Recognition and Legacy

In recognition of his immense contribution to modern medicine, Frank Pantridge was appointed to the Order of St John in June 1969 and awarded the Commander of the Order of the British Empire [CBE] in 1979.

“Professor Pantridge was a Queens University graduate, then lecturer and eventually a revered and admired Professor. Even after his death, his work continues to save lives. Professor Pantridge is rightly regarded as the Father of Emergency Medicine and his invention was a genuine, life-saving breakthrough”.

Vice Chancellor of Queens University, Professor Ian Greer, 2018

Frank Pantridge suffered all his life with poor health due to his gruelling experiences during World War 2. He died on 26 th December 2004.

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