Given the incredibly high tech nature of cardiovascular surgery, it would be forgivable to think that operating on the heart and blood vessels is a very modern medical intervention. In fact, heart surgery began back in the late nineteenth century, with periodic advancements bringing the medical profession to where it is today.
Early cardiac surgery on the actual heart (previous operations had treated the pericardium, the sac surrounding the heart) involved a young patient inflicted with stab wounds. While the patient died just days after going under the knife, the operation was a breakthrough, and only a few years later a similar case was treated successfully. t
By the standards of the day, when pioneering surgeon, Henry Souttar, inserted his finger into the left atrium of a patient’s heart it may have seemed a reckless approach to the treatment of the patient. The female patient survived the operation, but the doctors’ medical peers did indeed think his approach was too dangerous and banned the procedure.
Up until World War II, heart professionals had a chequered record of success. Undoubtedly they were making incredible progress and did prolong the lives of many patients and relieve the pain and suffering of others, but new technologies paved the way for even further advancements and a better success rate for cardiac patients.
Several surgeons used Henry Souttar’s finger insertion technique, though his method was adapted and improved upon several times since it was first tried. A number of successful heart operations took place throughout the 1940s by separate surgeons operating in different locations, and independently of each other, but each one operated successfully.
To this day, new advances in methodology and technology in heart surgery have continued to be developed. Today’s heart professionals may operate very differently to those acting over a hundred years ago, but their determination and drive to improve and save the lives of their patients exists in today’s surgeons too. And if it were not for the pioneering surgeons of that time, we would not have the awe-inspiring medial techniques that are available today.