Philadelphia celebrates 70th anniversary of first open heart surgery

On a recent Monday morning in the simulation lab at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Brian Schwartz attached transparent tubes of various sizes to a large machine with several monitors, dials and pumps.

During actual surgery in a hospital operating room, these tubes shuttle blood between the patient’s body and the cardiopulmonary bypass machine, oxygenating and circulating the blood so that the surgeon can perform heart surgery.

Schwartz is a perfusionist and expert in operating these machines.

“Our field is actually very young,” says Schwartz, director of the Cardiovascular Perfusion Program at Jefferson University. “And ironically, it was here that the first open-heart surgery was performed using a heart-lung machine.”

Seventy years ago this month, Philadelphia researcher and surgeon Dr. John Gibbon used the heart-lung machine he invented to perform the world’s first test on an 18-year-old woman at what was then called Jefferson Medical College Hospital. Successful open heart surgery. .

On May 6, 1953, Dr. John Gibbon and surgeons in the Jefferson Medical College Hospital operating room performed the world’s first successful open-heart surgery on Cecilia Bavorek using Gibbon’s heart-lung machine. (Courtesy: Thomas Jefferson University Archives, Philadelphia)

The procedure and use of this machine was the beginning of more successful surgeries and advances in medicine. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 2 million people worldwide undergo open-heart surgery each year.

Over the years, scientists built on Gibbon’s early invention to develop the modern heart-lung machine.

“I’m lucky to be teaching in a facility where a heart-lung machine was used for the first time,” Schwartz said. “And the best thing about this story is that Dr. Gibbon’s wife was his perfusion doctor.”

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