Originally published in Volume 36 Issue 1 of Artificial Organs, 18 January 2012
The University of Minnesota played a chief role in the development of modern heart surgery. It was there that Dr. Walton Lillehei carried out the first procedure with cross circulation. In 1955, he started using extracorporeal circulation (ECC) with the help of an oxygenator developed in association with Dr. Richard de Wall and a roller pump introduced by Michael DeBakey. By 1956, they had performed 80 surgical procedures using the bubble oxygenator.
Minnesota became a Mecca for thoracic surgeons from all over the world and opened its doors and expertise to hundreds of them. Dr. Lillehei is known to have trained around 1000 surgeons, among them Dr. Christian Barnard and Dr. Norman Shumway, pioneers in the heart transplant technique. Several Brazilian surgeons have been to Minnesota. One of them, Dr. Hugo Felipozzi, was there in 1954. Back to Brazil, in 1956, he carried out Brazil’s first surgery with ECC using the techniques and equipment developed in the USA, later adapted and manufactured in Brazil. Bizarrely, he built his equipment in an institute for heart studies funded by a large cigarette factory owned by his in-laws.
Another Brazilian surgeon, Dr. E.J. Zerbini (Fig. 1), went to Minnesota in 1957 with support of the Rockefeller Foundation. He had already been in the USA for specialization with a grant from the US State Department. Back in Brazil, he carried out in 1958 his first surgery with ECC repairing an atrial septal communication at the University of São Paulo Hospital using equipment built by himself and his assistants within the hospital building.