Remembering Dr. Tom Petty, a home respiratory icon

Thursday, January 7, 2010

DENVER – The HME industry lost a pioneering researcher and tireless patient advocate Dec. 12 when Dr. Tom Petty, the father of long-term oxygen therapy, passed away at his home after a long struggle with pulmonary hypertension. He was 76.

Though an iconic figure in both critical pulmonary care and home respiratory circles, Petty had a common touch. He was down to earth and a “friend to everyone,” said respiratory therapist and long-time friend Patrick Dunne.

“He was very humble and, at the same time, very brilliant,” Dunne said. “Patients loved him. He was ahead of the pack in encouraging patients to become more proactive in discussing their care with their physicians. Tom was doing that back in the 1980s and ‘90s."

Petty received his medical degree in 1958 from the University of Colorado and from there began exploring the restorative properties of oxygen. That led to the development of the seminal Nocturnal Oxygen Therapy Trial (NOTT) in the mid-1970s, which laid the groundwork for how home respiratory therapy is delivered today.

“He is going to be remembered as the father of home oxygen therapy,” said Joe Lewarski, vice president of Invacare’s respiratory division. “He championed the role of ambulatory oxygen technology through his vision, through his comments and through his endless campaign for improving patient quality of life.”

Ironically, Petty spent his final years using oxygen as he battled pulmonary hypertension, which developed from complications following open-heart surgery.

In a 2004 interview with HME News, Petty recounted how his interest in oxygen began when, as a medical student in 1955, he spent a month atop Mount Evans in Colorado to study the impact of high altitude on physiology.

“That experience taught me about how fundamental oxygen is to life,” Petty said at the time. “It has everything to do with living.”