Montreal teen's 'best moment': Being published in prestigious medical journal

Thomas Khairy is the principal author of an article titled Infections Associated with Resterilized Pacemakers and Defibrillators published earlier this month.

Thomas worked with researchers from the Montreal Heart Institute who conduct a long-running project that sends used pacemakers and defibrillators to patients in need in Dominican Republic, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Cuba and Ecuador.

When researchers at MHI didn't know how many lives had been saved by their work to resterilize machines taken from deceased people for reuse in others, Thomas endeavoured to find out. Once he set up a database tracking all the recipients – 1,748 in all – he then came up with the idea to study 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 research, the first of its kind, concluded that infection rates between the two groups "did not differ significantly."

The late Dr. Rafael Castan founded the Montreal Heart to Heart cardiac implantable device reuse program in 1983.

Castan, who saw the medical conditions in his homeland of Dominican Republic, decided to take life-saving heart devices that would normally be discarded and put them back to use in others who wouldn't be able to afford them otherwise.

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 set out to prove the safety of the MHI's humanitarian effort.

"Although we accomplished that goal, everything that happened next is just unbelievable and I never saw it coming," Thomas said on CTV's Your Morning Friday. He hopes it will lead to more resterilization and reuse of medical devices.

Thomas comes to his interest and aptitude naturally. His father is MHI cardiologist Dr. Paul Khairy, who was part of the MHI team on the project, along with cardiologists in Central America.

Thomas says the help he received in accumulating accurate data was the reason he could meet the exacting publishing standards of the New England Journal of Medicine. It was the team at MHI who led the charge to get the research published, but they cautioned Thomas not to get his hopes up.

It took the teen about a year of writing and rewriting and then back and forth with the editors at the NEJM to prove the accuracy of the data.

Even harder was keeping the news of publication secret from his friends while it remained under embargo. Receiving an email saying he would be published while travelling on a school bus for a class field trip months ago was the "best moment of my life" but he had to pretend, at least for a while, that it didn't happen.

CTVNews.ca sought to find out whether Thomas is the youngest ever to be published in the NEJM. A spokesperson there said by email: "It's impossible to know if he is youngest, but we think he must be among the youngest."

Thomas also presented his research at a science fair at his Montreal private high school, receiving a perfect 100 per cent grade. The project also earned a silver medal at the Canada-Wide Science Fair finals in 2018.

He's now focused on getting good grades and getting into medical school, and embarking on 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 Health Institute down the road, but isn't committing just yet.

SIGN UP NOW

Stay up-to-date and in-the-know by subscribing to one of our newsletters