The humble pig rises to new heights in a heart transplant, and a forensic investigation

I was amazed to learn about the pig-heart-transplant last evening on the TV news! A break-through for medicine and a last chance for 57 year old David Bennett of Maryland. “I may die”, he said, “but they may learn something to help others”. Such a noble thought on the eve of such an operation. He’s doing well three days later.

The news story reminded me about a forensic engineering investigation several years ago when I used skin from the stomach of a pig to test the skid resistance of a sauna floor in a slip and fall accident.

Not in the same league as the medical first but I’m certain an engineering first on the East Coast of Canada if not farther afield. And both typical examples of how Maritimers and Marylanders work things out living close to a fickle sea that throws one surprise after another at us.

There was at least one other first during this investigation, but first, how did I come to test the floor this way?

How did I test the floor with a pig’s help?

We test the skid resistance of a floor using the shoe worn by the victim at the time of the accident, as the drag sled. But, how do you drag a victim’s foot across a sauna floor?

(A drag sled is an object of known weight pulled across a floor and the pull measured. The ratio of the one to the other gives the skid resistance in engineering – the coefficient of friction in high school)

I did think about how I might use the victim’s foot but concluded there was too much risk for the victim and uncertainty in the results.

I remembered that a friend, a professor in the Dal University nursing department used dummies, including dummy legs, to teach nursing students. I chatted with her and examined one of the dummy legs.

It was a step forward but better still I chatted briefly with another in the medical department and learned that doctors recognized pig skin as similar to human skin. They got their pig skin from a butcher in Bedford to teach Dal medical students. A big step forward.

But to be real sure, I chatted with one of my daughters, a veterinarian, and she referred me to a research vet at the University of Prince Edward Island. I called this chap and confirmed that indeed pig skin was similar to human skin.

I went out to the Bedford butcher and got my 15″ x 8″ x 2″ slab of pig skin. Then back to the office to work out using this pig skin as a drag sled. Then to the accident site to carry out standard drag sled tests of skid resistance of the wet, dry sauna floor.

Hmmmm, how does a dry sauna floor get wet?

The penny dropped during an earlier visit and walk-through of the accident site – a shuttered recreational centre with a swimming pool, locker room and showers. These walk-throughs are invaluable when we saunter about the accident site, kick the tires, so to speak, and get calibrated to the site. They are invaluable.

So, on the skid testing day I took my bathing suit and a towel, took a shower – forgetting that the water in a closed rec centre would be cold 🙁 – and walked to the dry sauna dripping water everywhere, including on the dry sauna floor. Then I did my drag sled testing of skid resistance of the wet sauna floor using pig skin that is like human skin.

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There was nothing in the engineering text books about solving this slip and fall accident, same as there was nothing in the medical books to guide using a pig’s heart to save a guy.

Give us time and leave us alone and we’ll figure things out Down East – experienced forensic engineering experts and medical doctors – and if it’s newsworthy, maybe show up on TV late at night.

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, January 11, 2022. ejorden@eastlink.ca)   

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