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Audacious Heart Surgery During WW II Was Proof of Concept



(p. C9) The battle to operate meaningfully within the heart was a source of wonder and inspiration. Innovative in the extreme, brave to the point of recklessness, only exceptional characters could succeed. Some people claimed that only psychopaths could thrive in this environment. They were correct. More sensitive souls, like John Gibbon, who launched open-heart surgery in 1953, gave up after a spate of child deaths.

Thomas Morris tells this history well. "The Matter of the Heart" provides a thoroughly researched and detailed account of the major advances in cardiac surgery as derived from surgical literature, media reports and textbooks.


. . .


On Feb. 19, 1945, the courageous U.S. military surgeon Dwight Harken was attempting to remove bullets and shrapnel from in and around wounded soldiers' hearts as a group of senior British surgeons looked on. His operating theater consisted of a ramshackle hut with corrugated iron roof in the English Cotswolds. "Working as quickly as he could, Harken now made a small incision in the heart wall and inserted a pair of forceps to widen the opening," Mr. Morris recounts. "Through this aperture he introduced a clamp and fastened it around the elusive piece of metal. For a moment all was quiet. And then . . . 'suddenly, with a pop as if a champagne cork had been drawn, the fragment jumped out of the ventricle, forced by the pressure within the chamber. Blood poured out in a torrent.' . . . Harken put a finger over it, and picking up a needle started to sew it shut. . . . He discovered that he had sewn his glove to the wall of the heart. Finally his assistant cut him loose, and the job was done. Opening the heart, removing the shell fragment and repairing the incision had taken three minutes. His distinguished guests were deeply impressed: this was surgery of a sophistication and audacity which none had seen before." This was the case that persuaded the English and American allies that heart surgery was indeed a possibility.



For the full review, see:

Stephen Westaby. "How the Beat Goes On; A daring attempt to pick shrapnel from a soldier's heart opened the door to cardiac surgery." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018): C9.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs, added; ellipses internal two second quoted paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 26, 2018, and has the title "Review: How the Beat Goes On in 'The Matter of the Heart'; A daring attempt to pick shrapnel from a soldier's heart opened the door to cardiac surgery.")


The book under review, is:

Morris, Thomas. The Matter of the Heart: A History of the Heart in Eleven Operations. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2018.






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