Student Creative: Fiona McTaggart

16 January 2019
I am a part time student in my first year of the MA Illustration course at AUB. I am very pleased to have been given the opportunity to promote the Museum of Design in Plastics. I seek to do this through the exploration of plastics in paediatric cardiac treatment and care, as well as their use in the manufacture of toys. I hope to design and make a small figurine that encapsulates the necessity of plastics in this field as well as symbolising hope and strength for young people enduring cardiac treatment.

My choice of subject matter is very personal as my son has a condition called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (the enlargement of the left ventricle, making the muscle stretch and become weak, impairing function). On his diagnosis at 8 months old, we were faced with the possibility of death, heart transplantation and/or life-long medication. The shock of this news sent me into overdrive, researching medical improvements, pioneering treatments and alternative therapies. This coincided with the meeting of families enduring similar situations, with varying treatment plans and outcomes. In one case, a boy required heart transplantation and spent many months attached to a mechanical heart as he waited for a donor heart to become available. In this case and with my son, the necessity for plastics was crucial in the administration of oxygen and life-supporting medications. Plastic tubing offers a sterile, versatile and flexible means of administering blood, fluids and medication. Plastic syringes allow for sterile, oral delivery of daily medications – easily washed and re-used and also recyclable in the home environment. My son spent some time being fed through a naso-gastric tube and it is difficult to imagine the level of discomfort he would have endured had he required rubber tubing which was thicker and less malleable. Historically stiffer materials were used such as metal and leather (Cresci, Gail & Mellinger, John. (2006). The History of Nonsurgical Enteral Tube Feeding Access. Nutrition in clinical practice : official publication of the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition. 21. 522-8.). Plastic ventilator tubing and oxygen masks enabled sterile delivery of oxygen at a time when further infection could have proved fatal. Other uses of plastic involved the equipment used for conducting an echocardiogram or ECG (electrocardiogram) – two crucial procedures that our son undergoes on his outpatient visits to the heart failure clinic. These indicate any changes with his heart – improvements or deterioration. In turn, this determines his medication dosages that work to keep his heart functioning well enough for him to lead a near to normal life.

A series of personal photos illustrating use of plastic tubing, medical devices and oral syringes used to support our son on his road to recovery So far, we have been lucky in that my son has not required heart transplantation. However, for those that require open heart surgery or transplantation, there is the new hope of more successful treatment and surgery resulting from the use of 3D printed images of their heart. This enables surgeons to assess more accurately their patient’s needs before opening their chest. It is even hoped that with this advancing technology, artificial hearts might replace the need for donor hearts. Without the printing in plastics, the development of this technology would be hindered, if not prevented. Scientists and engineers are now replacing 3D printing in plastic with more natural polymers such as silicone and even ‘Bio-printing’, where the digital image is 3D printed using materials that incorporate viable living cells:

‘Bioprinters work in almost the exact same way as 3D printers, with one key difference. Instead of delivering materials such as plastic, ceramic, metal or food, they deposit layers of biomaterial, that may include living cells, to build complex structures like blood vessels or skin tissue.’ (

caac5d63-fbb8-4591-a72a-e2510ad711d4.jpg… So, how do I use this information for this bursary?

I would like to produce a figurine that celebrates the use of plastics in cardiac care and also provides a child undergoing treatment with a toy that represents hope and strength – a sort of talisman. 

We spent six weeks in hospital and in this time, reassurance came from the sophistication of medical treatment as well as the love and support from friends, family and relevant charities. I took comfort in the little things – symbols of love, luck and hope. Photographs of our son when he was well and happy gave me strength. Additionally, certain books struck a chord. One particular book was an illustration of the E.E Cummings poem, entitled ‘I Carry Your Heart with Me’ illustrated by Mati McDonough. The British Heart Foundation gave my son a teddy bear and friends with faith sent candles, a Rosary bracelet made by a Polish Nun and placed our son’s name on Buddhist and Catholic prayer lists. Although I am not religious, these objects gave me something tangible to clutch, when feeling a sense of hopelessness. 

Images representing symbols of hope and comfort received.

Hospitals can be boring places, especially when you have to spend long periods of time there. NHS staff are tremendous in their methods of engaging and entertaining patients and their carers. I would like to contribute to this with a small offering that is this figurine. I take inspiration from my son’s journey, the toys he plays with and the medical equipment available and in the process of being developed. I will base my character design on my son, however draw on the simplistic and effective Playmobil characters, also made from plastic. These resilient toy figures are small enough to cherish, mobile enough to engage in play with and able to illustrate an idea without too much personal detail.

It is my intention to design my character through drawing, then sculpt my final designs with polymer clay. From this I aim to cast my character in resin and hope to add either a 3D printed element or visually refer to this developing technology in my sculpture. I am a Fine Art painting graduate, however have been teaching in secondary schools for over a decade. I hope that my multi-disciplinary skills will support my research and practical developments, whilst also working with new processes that will complement my current studies in Illustration.

Fiona McTaggart (Student Creative)