Tom Brown with the prototype ultrasound (top left) and (bottom right) showing classmates his inventions during training at Allan Glen's school, which prepared pupils undergraduate study in sciences. Mr Brown in retirement (top right)

THE daughters of one of Scotland's ultrasound pioneers have spoken of their hope that his unfinished work to end crippling injuries among sonographers will finally be realised after his death.

Thomas Brown, the visionary young electrical engineer who famously blagged his way into the landmark project, died aged 86 on December 13.



Before falling ill with pneumonia in 2014, he devoted his retirement to researching how to redesign ultrasound technology to cut the high rates of repetitive strain injury plaguing sonographers worldwide.

Research has indicated that as many as 80-90 per cent of sonographers develop musculoskeletal disorders caused by the way they have to stand and move their joints during scanning. As a result, the profession has a high incidence of sickness absence and early retirement due to injury.

The father-of-three became aware of the problem in 2006 when his youngest daughter, Rhona, developed a serious complication called vasa praevia during pregnancy. The condition - where foetal blood vessels block the birth canal - is not routinely screened for but was picked up by chance at 36 weeks by a trainee sonographer.

Ms Brown said: "Had I gone into labour naturally those arteries would have ruptured, the baby would have died and I'd have been at risk as well.

"Dad was obviously very pleased that, through his invention, my son had avoided anything terrible happening, but he became very interested in the issue.

"He found out that one of the reasons why screening wasn't happening as much as it should was because there are not enough sonographers available. There is a very high attrition rate due to RSI."

Mr Brown, then 73, subsequently secured research funding to investigate a solution. His was cut short by illness, however, which eventually culminated in him moving into a care home in Kirkcaldy.

His daughter Katie Brown said: "He was really struggling towards the end of that period but he was just so tenacious to the point where he had bought a lathe to try and design and create a prototype himself in his shed at home. He was an extraordinary person.

"His house was like Wallace and Gromit. He was so fiercely independent and there was every solution in-built into that house to allow him to function and carry on doing his work.

"I'm still hopeful that something can come about that would allow it to be carried on and taken forward."

The family has retained all their father's paperwork and experts at Glasgow School of Art have already expressed an interest in progressing his research, but it remains in limbo for now.

Born and brought up in Glasgow, as a schoolboy he was fascinated by dismantling and reassembling household items and building radio sets. He taught himself electrical engineering from books so that, when the family moved during the war to a house in the countryside without electricity, he was able to wire it himself for lighting.

He even built a television set in 1953 so that his family and their neighbours could watch the Queen's coronation.

The turning point in his life, however, came three years later when he was working as an electrical engineer for scientific instrument specialists, Kelvin & Hughes. He was changing a lightbulb at Glasgow's Western Infirmary when he overheard a conversation that obstetrician Professor Ian Donald was having trouble using one of the firm's detectors to distinguish between fibroids and cysts.

Mr Brown believed it would be possible to produce radar-like images of internal organs and approached the professor directly in a move that would revolutionise medical imaging.

Katie Brown said: "I think it's amazing this 23-year-old had the guts to go in there and tell this very learned professor what he needed to do in terms of the engineering.

A working version was put to use in 1957 and in 1958 Mr Brown, Prof Donald and obstetrician Dr John McVicar published their seminal Lancet paper detailing the breakthrough.

It is now widely used not only in maternity care but in cardiology and urology to detect blood flow, kidney stones and the early signs of prostate cancer.

Mr Brown's interest in ultrasound continued with his trailblazing work on Sonicaid's 3D foetal imaging in the 1970s, but the innovation was not commercially successful at the time and his daughters said he was "heartbroken" when production was discontinued in 1979.

He went on to work in the oil and gas industry and ultimately at St George's hospital in London, where he retired in 2002.

He settled in Kinghorn, Fife, where he entertained his grandchildren with "baby seagull feeding and repeated trips up and down his stairlift".

Katie Brown said her father's biggest regret was seeing the loss of the skills his generation had taken for granted.

"He was heartbroken by people not using their fingers and their hands and their minds to make things," she said. "He felt that was an incredible loss to society. He came from a generation of men for whom these were skills of the highest order, and we don't use them anymore."

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