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AMERICAN HEART PIONEERS
Published in November, 2019
H E K T O R A M A

 

 

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ALFRED BLALOCK & VIVIEN THOMAS

 

 

1930 Nashville. A twenty-year old African American man, honors student, and son of a carpenter had his eyes set on becoming a physician. This was not unfounded. In his middle class community there were fire fighters, doctors, and teachers. Working as a carpenter he saved for seven years to finance his education. But then the Great Depression hit, banks foreclosed, and he lost everything. To support his wife and two children, he needed a job. A doctor at Vanderbilt was looking for someone to assist in his research lab. When Mr. Vivien Thomas entered the lab and met Dr. Alfred Blalock, the world would be forever changed.

The job was to clean the lab and the cages of the animals used for experiments. Dr. Blalock, a onetime playboy from a prominent family in Georgia had evolved into a passionate researcher. He was studying shock. Many soldiers’ lives had been lost due to this cardiovascular condition. Vivien gazed at the shelf of medical text books and the table of test tubes and took the job. His title was janitor.

 

 

By Carrie Barron

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PAUL DUDLEY WHITE
In September 1955 President Dwight Eisenhower suffered a myocardial infarction. Dr. Paul Dudley White (1886–1973) was called in to attend to him. For a time, Dr. White was probably the most famous cardiologist in the US because of his attendance to the president. A noted photograph of him at the time showed White riding a bicycle, for he was a strong advocate of physical activity to prevent cardiovascular disease, and his efforts were instrumental in the increase of emphasis in cardiovascular prevention amongst the medical profession. Long before his photographs on a bicycle in the late 1950s, he was a recognized cyclist and at one time was made honorary president of the Bicycle Touring League of America. One of his quotes was “walk more, eat less, sleep more.” There is a 17-mile bike path along the Charles River that is named after him. He had a habit of walking to and from the airport from his meetings, once walking to the Washington National Airport after a meeting with Eisenhower at the White House.

 

By Philip R. Liebson

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SAMUEL A. LEVINE
In an era where the use of imaging and other technological testing frequently takes the place of bedside diagnosis, it is intriguing to recall the state of cardiovascular diagnosis when the clinician relied on his or her eyes, ears, and hands—with a little help from the stethoscope and electrocardiogram. During the last century, Samuel Albert Levine (1891–1966), a Harvard clinician, was among the giants in the field. Born in Poland, Sam Levine was brought to the United States by his family at the age of three, where he grew up in Boston…

In 1913, Sam spent a year at the Rockefeller Institute under Dr. Alfred E. Cohen, who taught him electrocardiography, a new device with which he had worked briefly as a medical student. In 1916, while a resident at the Brigham, he made probably the second antemortem diagnosis of acute coronary thrombosis, which Chicago’s James B. Herrick had initially described in 1912. Sam later contributed a comprehensive monograph on the subject in 1929.

 

By Philip R. Liebson

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LEONARDO AND THE REINVENTION OF ANATOMY
Each year the American Heart Association Council on Clinical Cardiology honors a physician “whose scientific achievements have contributed profoundly to the advancement and practice of clinical cardiology.” This award is named after the physician James B. Herrick (1861-1954) who, within a two-year period, presented descriptions that crystallized the focus on two major diseases. Between 1910 and 1912, he discovered and first described the manifestations of sickle-cell disease (now hemoglobin SS) and provided the first definitive description of the clinical manifestations of coronary thrombosis. For many years, sickle-cell disease was known as Herrick’s syndrome.

 

By Philip R. Liebson

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HELEN TAUSSIG: FOUNDER AND MOTHER OF PEDIATRIC CARDIOLOGY
On November 29, 1944, a landmark operation arose from the collaboration of three pioneers: Alfred Blalock, Helen Taussig, and Vivien Thomas.1 Now carrying the eponym of the Blalock-Taussig shunt, this was the first “blue baby” operation done during a remarkable early era of heart surgery. Its concept and success resulted in large part from the pioneering clinical efforts of Dr. Taussig, a woman in the largely male-dominated medical profession of the time.

Helen Brooke Taussig was born on May 24, 1898, daughter of Frank and Edith Taussig. When her mother died when she was a small child, young Helen was nurtured—though by no means coddled—by her father, an eminent Harvard economics professor and one of the founders of the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration. He also helped her overcome dyslexia.

 

By Colin K.L. Phoon

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ADRIAN KANTROWITZ: THE IABA AND THE LVAD
I first met Dr. Adrian Kantrowitz at my fourth-year surgery oral examination. He was one of three interviewers, and although I was sure that I failed the exam, he assured me that I had done well. I next met him almost 10 years later when I was a junior faculty member at the New York Hospital Cornell Medical Center. At this meeting, he proposed to have us use the new intra-aortic balloon counterpulsation device in our Coronary Care Unit for the treatment of cardiogenic shock. I can truly say that he not only found a way to treat cardiogenic shock in patient care, but also post-examination stress.

 

By Philip R. Liebson

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AUSTIN FLINT: EMINENT AMERICAN PHYSICIAN
Austin Flint (1812–1886) was an eminent American physician who made important contributions to the practice of medicine and to the knowledge of diseases of the heart and lungs. Graduating from Harvard University in 1832, he spent several years in private practice, then served as professor of medicine at the Buffalo School of Medicine, Rush Medical College in Chicago (1844–5), New Orleans Medical School and Charity Hospital, University of Louisville, Bellevue Hospital, and Long Island Hospital in Brooklyn. Recognized as a leader in the field of medical education and thought, he served as president of the American Medical Association and the New York Academy of Science.

 

By George Dunea

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DR. ROBERT E. GROSS AND FIRST OPERATIONS IN CARDIOVASCULAR SURGERY

 

 

There is a myth that Dr. Robert E. Gross (1905-1988), a Harvard surgeon, performed the first cardiovascular surgery. There is no question that he performed the first successful major operation on the great vessels near the heart in which the patient survived, the ligation of a patent ductus arteriosus on August 26, 1938. He also performed the first successful correction of coarctation of the aorta in 1945. He made many contributions to the development and practice of cardiovascular surgery in his long career.

 

 

By Philip R. Liebson

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