Machines save hundreds of thousands of lives each year. For February,
Heart Health Month, here is the amazing story of the first Heart-Lung
machine and its inventor, Dr. John H. Gibbon Jr.
FIRST HEART-LUNG MACHINE
Almost sixty-seven years have
passed since the first successful heart-lung machine was used in
surgery. Unfortunately, generations of people have little memory of what
a diagnosis of heart problems once meant.
In those days, there were no
real therapies for heart problems. A patient could possibly have an
operation, but it wasn't likely that he or she would survive it.
Then, on May 6, 1953, an
18-year-old woman survived open heart surgery and recovered. Her surgery
was an experiment 23 years in the making and the result of the singular
struggle of Dr. John H. Gibbon, Jr.
DR. JOHN H. GIBBON, JR.
The struggle began in 1931 when, as a surgical resident, Gibbon was
assigned to monitor a young woman who, two weeks after surgery,
developed a blood clot that went to the heart. During a long night,
Gibbon watched as she progressively became worse. Her heart and lungs
could no longer provide oxygen to her blood.
That morning, Gibbon observed as a surgeon attempted to remove
the blood clot during open-heart surgery. The operation was an act of
pure desperation. Open heart surgery prior to 1953
could occur only two ways, either by placing the patient into a
hypothermic freeze, or by stopping the heart (and respiration) and
working fast. Surgeons could make repairs in six minutes
or so, but patients rarely survived.
Prior to 1953, no patient in the
U.S. had ever been known to survive the removal of blood clots and
neither did the sick young woman on the operating table that day in
But in that moment, Gibbon had an insight: Blood
must be circulated and oxygenated by a machine outside the body while
the surgeon worked inside the body. But what would serve as the pump?
How would you provide the blood to the patient?
the next 23 years, Gibbon and his wife/assistant worked on the idea,
solving all the major problems associated with using a mechanical pump
to bypass the heart. They had no big government grants but
unfortunately, they had plenty of opponents and naysayers.
on that day in May of 1953, at the Jefferson Medical College Hospital,
Gibbon tried out his new bypass machine, operating on an 18-year-old
woman. Assistants watched in awe as the impossible happened and the
patient lived through a once-impossible surgery.
was connected to the device for three-quarters of an hour and for 26
crucial minutes, the patient totally depended upon the machine's
artificial cardiac and respiratory functions.
the operation, Dr. Gibbon told his biographer he felt exhilaration,
relief, and joy. He was so overwhelmed that for the first time in his
life he couldn't even sit down to write down his own operation notes.
Another doctor had to supply the notes.
Dr. Gibbon went on
to perform four more operations, all on children, but all the patients
died. After those four failures, he declared a moratorium on the
procedure. He never again went back to heart surgery.
HEART SURGERY THROUGH THE YEARS TO THE PRESENT
find out more information on this subject as well as a video with Dr.
Oz performing open heart surgery, please continue reading here.