The late Henry Goedjen Paulus, father of King’s Daughters Medical Center (KDMC) cardiologist Richard Paulus, M.D., is sharing the spotlight with his son.
In the 1960s, Henry Paulus designed an artificial heart for the University of Vermont Medical School. His problem-solving abilities while working throughout the region as a toolmaker for aircraft companies, earned him quite a reputation. He was commissioned by an instructor (Dr. Bert Kusserow) at the medical school, who was also the president of the Artificial Organs Institute of America.
Henry Paulus devised a simple but effective mechanism characterized by three independent chambers. Many of the features of this design can be seen in today’s cardiac assist devices.
His invention never got beyond the initial prototype and testing, however. When his sponsor, Dr. Kusserow, was killed suddenly in a vehicle crash, the artificial heart project was dropped.
Today, the pioneering device is on display on a glass-enclosed pedestal in the lobby of KDMC’s Heart and Vascular Center – where his son serves as medical director. Believing that his father deserved credit for his ingenuity, Dr. Paulus dug out the device, cleaned it up a little, and agreed to loan it to KDMC. He remembers his self-educated father as a “mechanical genius” and “a common man doing some very special things.” Henry Paulus had attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis., for two years, majoring in aeronautical engineering. The promising young student dropped out of college due to the Great Depression.
Henry Paulus’ artificial heart is comprised of three chambers made of a plastic material that at that time was called “silastic.” The first chamber is an inflow valve, the second is the actual pumping/compression chamber, and the third is an outflow valve. The valves and actual pumping section are contained in separate chambers of water. The device is powered by a small electric motor that causes water to flow into the second chamber to create a gentle but effective pumping function at 70 revolutions per minute, or about the same rate as an average adult heartbeat. Tubing connects the apparatus to the heart and arteries. A key aspect of the device is that it does not crush or traumatize the red blood cells or cause clotting as blood is pumped through the machine.
Henry Paulus continued to design and create inventions. For example, he built the first automated system for adhering aluminum foil wrappings smoothly around the top of beverage bottles. He contributed to the Vulcan Gun Program for the U.S. Department of Defense, and also contributed products used in NASA’s Apollo Space Program. Mr. Paulus rebuilt an ice cream machine to Ben & Jerry’s specifications to produce the company’s first ice cream.
Henry Paulus died in July 2000.
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