In a field that is mostly dominated by male surgeons, one woman will always stand out. Besides being the first woman to become a heart surgeon, Nina Starr Braunwald accomplished many other firsts within the field. Nina Starr Braunwald was born in New York in 1928. She graduated from New York University where she was one of the first woman to enter the heart surgery program. Following her graduation from the university she signed on with the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine where she helped to establish a program for cardio vascular study. She went on to join the faculty at Harvard Medical School in the Cardiothoracic Surgical Divisions of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital, and the West Roxbury Veterans Administration Hospital.
Braunwald’s reserach was mostly done on artifical heart valves. Braunwald was able to develop a flexible polyurethane mitral valve with Teflon chordae tendinea. At first the use of the device was only able to be implanted into dogs. In 1960, at the young age of 32, she led the operative team that implanted this artificial valve into a human. This was the first operation performed of its kind. This was not only a landmark operation but helped to pave the wave for future artificial heart transplants.
Braunwald achieved many firsts in her field. She was the first woman to perform open heart surgery, the first woman to become certified by the American Board on Cardiothroacic Surgery, and the first woman to be elected to the American Association for Thoracic Surgery.
Along with being a powerful surgeon within her field she was also a great wife and mother. She was dedicated to doing everything essential within her day to the best of her ability and that included spending time with her three children.
Braunwald died in 1992, and following her death received the highest honor by the Association of Women Surgeons by being awarded their Distinguished Member.