Perfusionists are at the heart of the operation and provide much-needed assistance during cardiac surgery, tending to the patient’s physiological and metabolic needs so the surgeon can focus on making the necessary repairs. Advancements of the pump oxygenator led to the creation of the heart-lung machine. This device plays a critical role during cardiopulmonary bypass because it acts as an artificial blood pump while the surgeon operates. The development of this machine was a turning point in the history of open-heart surgery.

History of Open-Heart Surgery 

In 1931, Dr. John H. Gibbon, Jr. began developing the first heart-lung machine after a patient died during cardiac surgery. He believed that the patient would have survived if they could have artificially managed the heart and lungs during the operation. They first conducted research and performed testing on cats. In these early experiments, Gibbon tested different types of pump oxygenators to try to improve performance. However, the machine damaged the cats’ blood cells, and most of them didn’t survive longer than 23 days post-surgery. 

After further research and refining, Gibbon began testing the machine on dogs. Experiments revealed advancements that needed to be added to the device, such as filters and suction to prevent blood clots and external air from entering. After addressing these issues, survival rates were high, proving that the machine was ready for use on humans. 

1953 marked the first successful surgery with a heart-lung machine. Although the patient fully recovered from the operation, the procedure revealed one major flaw. The patient’s heart was left beating during surgery, allowing blood to reach it still. This made the surgery difficult and messy to perform. Gibbon reverted to experimenting on animals. At first, testing showed that stopping the heart for more than 15 minutes left extensive tissue damage. Further research revealed that cooling the heart to below 28℃ with the right mix of chemicals allowed stoppage of the heart for longer periods during more extensive surgeries. 

The heart-lung machine is now widely used during cardiac surgery to keep patients alive. It’s also essential for use during heart transplants, supporting premature babies, and for those with long-term respiratory or cardiac issues. This device set the standard for advancements in medical technology in the perfusion industry. 

During the AmSECT International Conference each year, the John H. Gibbon, Jr. Award is given to an individual who is making remarkable contributions to cardiopulmonary medicine, and this year’s recipient was SpecialtyCare’s own Al Stammers, MSA, PBMS, CCP Emeritus.

Advancements in Medicine

Over the course of history, notable advancements in medicine have pushed the industry forward. The development of the heart-lung machine only prompted further innovation, standardizing various other treatments for heart disease. State-of-the-art medical technology, utilized in fields such as perfusion, provides benefits to hospitals and their patients. With technology constantly evolving, new tools are being implemented to meet the needs of patients and their healthcare providers. This progression in medical research and technology provides immense value through innovation. These advancements continue to improve survival rates and allow healthcare providers to offer the highest quality patient care.