Canadian teen named to the Forbes 30 Under 30

Thomas Khairy authored a study testing the safety of reusing pacemakers and defibrillators.

Dave Yasvinski 3 minute read December 17, 2020
Thomas Khairy

Thomas F. Khairy has become the youngest person to ever have a study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medecine. He displays a pacemaker, left, and defibrillator in Montreal, on Thursday, May 7, 2020. Allen McInnis / MONTREAL GAZETTE)

A young Canadian researcher was just named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 for pouring his heart and soul into a study that tested the safety of reusing resterilized pacemakers and defibrillators.

Thomas Khairy was just 15 years old when he became one of the youngest first authors to have his research published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in May. “When I found out the news I was actually on a school bus with my classmates coming back from a play,” he told “Although the reality of it all had not totally sunk in, it was one of the happiest moments of my life.”

The paper was the culmination of three years of hard work that began when a 12-year-old Khairy walked into the Montreal Heart Institute’s pacemaker and defibrillator reuse program — known as Heart to Heart — in the summer of 2017. The project was founded in 1983 by Rafael Castan, a Canadian cardiologist originally from the Dominican Republic, and has been led for over a decade by Marie-Andrée Lupien, the hospital’s electrophysiology technician. The humanitarian effort provides a vital service by sending life-saving devices to needy countries with limited resources.

“She took me under her wing and taught me the process of cleaning, disinfecting, programming and selecting the pacemakers and defibrillators that were suitable to ship for resterilization and reuse,” says Khairy. “I was truly inspired by her and fascinated by the mission.”

Khairy was soon able to obtain status as a research student and get to work building a master database of every patient that had been on the receiving end of one of the recycled life-saving devices since 2003. “We were amazed to see that 1,748 resterilized pacemakers and defibrillators had been implanted through our humanitarian program, excluding devices shipped before 2003 that were not systematically tracked,” he says. “The MHI program appeared to have the largest experience of any reported.”

Once that was complete, Khairy was inspired to investigate the safety of reusing these devices, an idea that would eventually be documented in the pages of the NEJM. “We set out to determine the infection rate associated with resterilized pacemakers and defibrillators and to compare it with the infection rate with new devices,” he says.

The study, which relied on 1,051 patients from the database Khairy compiled, found no significant difference in levels of infection between the new and reused items. Now all he had to do was write the paper alongside his regular schoolwork and a growing global pandemic.

“It took over a year from the time I drafted the first version of the manuscript to when it was accepted for publication,” he says. “It was a major team effort. The NEJM had excellent suggestions and posed superb questions that helped improve our study.”

Since then, he has presented his work at the American Heart Association’s annual conference and, of course, at his high school science fair. “The hope is to follow-up soon with Health Canada and to expand the scope and reach of such humanitarian programs to save as many lives as possible,” he says.

Never one to draw attention to himself, Khairy says he is happy the hospital was receiving so much attention and hopeful it would inspire other institutes to follow suit. “I also felt excited for the cardiologists at the participating resource-limited centres who battle every day to save the lives of their patients despite difficult conditions and for my entire research team at MHI,” he says.

Receiving recognition from the Forbes 30 Under 30 is just the cherry on top of a very good year for a promising young talent.

“I was in disbelief! It’s definitely an award that I dedicate to our team,” he says. “I enjoyed a celebratory popsicle.”

Dave Yasvinski is a writer with


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