Originally published in Volume 42 Issue 8 of Artificial Organs, 04 September 2018
On May the 6th, 1953 John H. Gibbon Jr., MD (Dr. Gibbon) became the first surgeon to perform an open cardiotomy during bypass under direct vision in a human, by repairing an interatrial septal defect in an 18-year-old female (Fig. 1) 1. Dr. Gibbon initially became interested in developing the heart-lung machine in 1931, after witnessing a patient with a massive pulmonary embolism 2. The patient was treated with an “off-pump” surgical embolectomy, as described by Dr. Friedrich Trendelenburg, which had a staggeringly high mortality rate, and had never been performed successfully in the USA at that time 2, 3. It is no surprise that this event profoundly affected Dr. Gibbon, as his job was to stay with the patient and take blood pressures every 15 min, for 18 h while she deteriorated. Finally, when a blood pressure was no longer obtainable, surgical treatment was initiated, and the patient ultimately died 4. In Dr. Gibbon’s own words, “During that long night, helplessly watching the patient struggle for life, the idea naturally occurred to me that if it were possible to remove continuously some of the blue blood from the patient’s distended veins, put oxygen into that blood and allow carbon dioxide to escape from it, and then inject continuously the now red blood back into the patient’s arteries, we might have been able to save her life. We would by-pass the obstructing embolus in the pulmonary artery and perform part of the work of the patient’s heart and lungs outside of the body” 2.