Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Keys to Life

The Keys to Life
New Trail
Spring 2013

Why Randy Marsden is the most important inventor you've never heard of

On February 5, 2012, Gil Allan, ’82 BEd, visited his father in the recovery ward of an Edmonton hospital. Allan was relieved to see his dad, Bud Dahlseide, looking in such good colour and spirits after a month-long hospital stay to remove the defibrillator in his chest and replace it with a pacemaker. They went down to the food court for ice cream, where Dahlseide joked with the staff. “Everyone’s expectation was that he was fine and real soon would be going home,” remembers Allan. “But when I was putting him to bed, he said, ‘You know, I feel funny. I feel like I have the flu coming on.’ ”

Somewhere in the hospital’s corridors, Dahlseide had come into contact with Clostridium difficile, or C. difficile, one of the strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as “superbugs.” Once the bacteria entered Dahlseide’s body, they found their way to his colon, multiplying and releasing toxins that caused severe diarrhea and bloating. Within four days, his kidneys had shut down. “On Feb. 5, he was my dad, he was completely himself,” remembers Allan. “Four days later he was dead.”

What happened to Bud Dahlseide is tragic but increasingly common. Hospital-acquired infections, including C. difficile, are the No. 4 cause of death in North America, behind cancer, heart disease and stroke. Every year, more than 220,000 Canadians will acquire an infection while in hospital, and at least 8,000 of them will die. The numbers are even more staggering in the United States, where 1.7 million people will become infected and nearly 99,000 will die.

“That is the equivalent to the audience at this year’s Super Bowl — and that many will die every year,” says Randy Marsden, ’89 BSc(ElecEng), an Edmonton entrepreneur who is working to drastically lower that figure. “It should be completely preventable.”

Marsden is one of the rare individuals who can claim “inventor” as his occupation. He is in his late 40s, with a thick build, thin-frame glasses and a neatly trimmed beard. His well-kempt appearance belies the popular image of the dishevelled, eccentric genius. It is easier to imagine him the clean-cut Mormon kid from southern Alberta who, at 19, undertook a two-year mission to Japan and became fluent in the language.

Even today, 25 years later, he is as full of certitude as any proselytizer, but his mission now is to save lives by preventing hospital-acquired infections. His target is the keyboard on which this story was typed.

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