Intended for healthcare professionals


David Simpson

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 13 July 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:150

Pioneer of powered prosthetic limbs and fetal heart monitors

David Simpson, who was disabled by a war wound, retrained from accountancy to physics to devise solutions for medical problems. In the 1950s, when orthopaedic engineering was in its infancy, he pioneered the design and manufacture of controllable artificial limbs. He designed monitoring equipment for use in transplant surgery at Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary and Western General Hospital, including one of the first multichannel recorders, and developed the first successful fetal heart monitor in the 1950s.

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In 1963, when the thalidomide disaster greatly increased the need for artificial limbs, Simpson was appointed as the founding director of the NHS Powered Prosthetic Unit at the Princess Margaret Rose Orthopaedic Hospital in Edinburgh. He had been charged with finding solutions for children with phocomelia, such as that associated with prenatal exposure to thalidomide, and amelia. He had previously visited Heidelberg to learn from the pioneering work of Ernst Marquardt, who had been making and fitting pneumatic limbs, which were powered by canisters of carbon …

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