A new catheter transforms Tom's life

Tom & Nancy

A new catheter, developed by researchers from Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and UWA, is helping patients in the final stages of lung cancer, breast cancer and mesothelioma breathe more easily and spend precious time at home, rather than in hospital. It’s an innovation that has made a huge difference to Tom Sutcliffe’s life. 


A lifesaver for Tom Tom, who was given 18 months to live in June 2015, has been using the catheter for over two years.

“The catheter has been a lifesaver for me. I couldn’t function on a day-to-day basis without it,” said Tom.

Before, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t walk. It’s terrifying. You’re suffocating.

How the catheter works

Patients with mesothelioma (a tumour of the internal organs) and lung and breast cancers often suffer from an uncomfortable, potentially dangerous daily build-up of fluid in the chest. The build-up impairs breathing and requires hospitalisation for invasive and often painful procedures.

“The most frightening thing is to lie down on a bed and start gasping for breath,” said Tom.

So, when they did the first drain at the hospital, it’s like they took a bag of cement off my chest. They got two litres out, and I walked out with a spring in my step when I went home.

Helping Tom spend more time at home

The new catheter enables patients to drain fluid from their lungs and chest themselves and, crucially, enjoy more time in their last weeks and days at home. In fact, the innovative implant has the potential to almost halve the amount of time patients have to stay in hospital.

Tom’s wife, Nancy, uses the catheter to perform a half-hour chest-drain procedure at their home in Safety Bay, removing around 500ml of fluid from Tom’s chest every day.

“Being able to do it all ourselves at home really frees us up. It also frees up the team at Charlies. We’d be lost without it.”

The potential to improve lives worldwide

Researchers conducted a study of almost 150 patients and estimated that, with more than 8,000 cancer and mesothelioma patients across Australia suffering with breathlessness, the new device could save hospitals up to 14,000 bed days and $20 million a year.

Even more impressively, the catheter could help bring relief to around one million patients worldwide.

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