Heart surgeons and other professionals working in the cardiovascular professions have a rich history. Cardiac surgeons operate or perform surgery on the heart. Most of the time these surgeries are performed to treat heart disease, correct heart diseases caused by a congenital defect or treat disease caused by issues such as endocarditis. Heart transplants also fall under the purview of these professionals.
In the 19th century, early operations were performed on the sac surrounding the heart (pericardium) by Daniel Hale Williams, Henry Dalton and others. Axel Cappelen from Norway performed the first heart surgery in 1895. During this procedure he sutured a coronary artery on a patient who had been stabbed in the armpit. Cappelen accessed the heart through the left side of the chest. While the patient appeared to recuperate, he later succumbed to an inflammation of the chest tissues (mediasatinum).
In 1896 Dr. Ludwig Rehn of Germany repaired a stab wound to the right chamber of the heart and this surgery was consider a success as there were no resulting complications.
In 1925 Henry Souttar performed the first operation on the valves of a heart. While the patient did survive, the other physicians of the time determined that there was no justification for that type of invasive surgery and Souttar was prohibited from future valve surgeries.
After World War II there were significant changes in heart surgery. Four surgeons in 1948 successfully repair valve damage caused by rheumatic fever. Other surgeries that followed included removal of a portion of the mitral valve by Dr. Dwight Harken, and three surgeons who adopted Souttar’s earlier procedures and techniques. Other surgeons of the time performed work to repair pulmonary stenosis and other heart defects. All of these surgeries were considered “blind” operations—surgeons could not actually see the damage and relied on feel. After heart bypass techniques were discovered, new types of operations made way for direct surgery on valves.