British boiler engineer Tal Golesworthy fixed his own heart. Why? He has Marfan syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that often leads to a weakened aorta. The typical treatment for a dilated aorta involves a rough and invasive surgery, as well as a lifetime of anticoagulation therapy. Not surprisingly, that sounded unappealing to Tal. And his experience with pipes gave him an idea: when a pipe bulges, plumbers wrap it with tape. Why not wrap the aorta with something to support it? Tal collaborated with a team of doctors to build a better solution to Marfan syndrome, and he's lived more than seven healthy years with the device he created. At TEDxKrakow last October, he described the experience. Video below.
Few people have the courage to challenge their doctors. Fewer have the courage (and skills) to design their own medical device. Tal's story demonstrates the beauty of cross-disciplinary work. Sometimes, in a world of increasing specialization, it's easy to lose sight of what experts in different fields have in common—whether you're fixing pipes, fixing hearts, fixing computers, or fixing cars, you're making complex integrated systems go.
Cross-disciplinary work is a struggle, Tal explains. Doctors and engineers have different jargon, different knowledge bases, and different egos—but when those challenges are overcome, the results can be phenomenal.
All the more reason for everyone to learn a bit of engineering by getting to know the insides of your own stuff.