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King of Hearts: The True Story of the Maverick Who Pioneered Open Heart Surgeryby G. Wayne Miller
Synopses & Reviews
On the day that some feared he crossed over into madness, the surgeon C. Walton Lillehei woke at his usual time, about six o'clock. He ate his ordinary light breakfast, read the morning paper, kissed his wife and three young children goodbye, then drove his flashy Buick convertible to University Hospital in Minneapolis. The first patients of the day were already unconscious when Lillehei dressed in scrubs and entered the main operating area. It was March 26, 1954.
Lillehei walked into Room II, where the doctors who would assist him were preparing two operating tables for the baby and the grownup who would soon be there. Nearly all of the doctors were young — younger even than Lillehei, who was only thirty-five. Most were residents — surgeons still in training who were devoted to Lillehei not only because he was an outstanding surgeon, but also because he seemed to live for risk and he overflowed with unconventional new ideas.
Lillehei checked on the pump and the web of plastic tubes that would connect the grownup to the baby. He confirmed that two teams of anesthesiologists were ready, that the O.R. supervisor had briefed the many nurses, and that the blood bank was steeled for possible massive transfusions.
He confirmed that the grownup — who was the baby's father — had not changed his mind about their being the subjects of this experiment, which no doctor had attempted before.
It looks good, said Lillehei. I think we're ready to go.
Elsewhere in University Hospital, a nurse roused the baby.
Fourteen-month-old Gregory Glidden was an adorable boy with big ears and a fetching smile that had endeared him to the staff during the three straight months they had cared for him. He was unusually scrawny, but at the moment there was no other outward sign that he was sick. His appearance was deceiving. Gregory had been born with a hole between the lower chambers of his heart — a type of defect that no surgeon had ever been able to fix. In fact, Gregory was dying. Dr. Lillehei doubted he would last the year.
Unlike many nights in his short life, Gregory had slept well and he awoke in good spirits. The nurse cleansed his chest with an antibacterial solution and dressed him in a fresh gown, but she could not give him breakfast; for surgery, his body had to be pure. A resident administered penicillin and a pre-operative sedative, and the baby became drowsy again. Then an orderly appeared and spoke softly to Gregory about the little trip he would be taking — that he would travel safe in his crib, with his favorite toys and stuffed animals.
One floor below his son, Lyman Glidden was also headed for surgery. His wife, Frances, had come by to see him off, and as they waited for Lyman to be wheeled away, they were thinking not only of Gregory. They were remembering their daughter LaDonnah, who had been born with the same defect as their little boy. Somehow LaDonnah had survived, in relatively good health, until the age of twelve. Then, in the spring of 1950, she became gravely ill, and one night that September, she died in her sleep.
The Gliddens could never forget finding her body, cold and rigid in her bed.
It was half past seven. In the operating room next to Lillehei, Chief of Surgery Owen H. Wangensteen was cutting into a woman he hoped to cure of cancer. Wangensteen had
G. Wayne Miller is a staff writer at The Providence Journal, where he has won numerous journalism awards. He is the
Few of the great stories of medicine are as palpably dramatic as the invention of open-heart surgery, yet, until now, no journalist has ever brought all of the thrilling specifics of this triumph to life.
This is the story of the surgeon many call the father of open-heart surgery, Dr. C. Walton Lillehei, who, along with colleagues at University Hospital in Minneapolis and a small band of pioneers elsewhere, accomplished what many experts considered to be an impossible feat: He opened the heart, repaired fatal defects, and made the miraculous routine.
Acclaimed author G. Wayne Miller draws on archival research and exclusive interviews with Lillehei and legendary pioneers such as Michael DeBakey and Christiaan Barnard, taking readers into the lives of these doctors and their patients as they progress toward their landmark achievement. In the tradition of works by Richard Rhodes and Tracy Kidder, King of Hearts tells the story of an important and gripping piece of forgotten science history.
From the Hardcover edition.
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