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Open Heart

The Radical Surgeons Who Revolutionized Medicine


David K. C. Cooper, M.D. (View Bio)
Hardcover: Kaplan Publishing, 2010.

Open Heart

Surgery to repair diseased or deformed hearts had to wait for crucial advances of the twentieth century:  development of special anesthetic techniques to allow the patient to be oxygenated with the chest open (when the lungs would normally collapse), the introduction of blood transfusion and the evolution of blood banks, and the development of techniques for suturing blood vessels together.  Temporarily stopping the heart, or supporting the circulation with a mechanical pump, such as the heart-lung machine, required the introduction of heparin, an agent that prevents the clotting of blood.

Dr. Cooper's book tells the story of these advances, the amazing surgical feats they allowed, and most of all the doctors who strived to perfect them.  Because these men lived, and pursued and achieved their goals, all of our lives have been changed for the better.  Without them, blue babies would continue to die in childhood, young adults would continue to die miserable deaths from valve disease, and older people would not be given a “second chance” through heart transplantation.  These men have affected our everyday lives very deeply.  This book probes the questions, “Who were they?” and “What drove them to do what they did?”


"David Cooper, a heart transplant surgeon, set out in 1987 to interview as many as possible of the pioneer heart surgeons then still living and, when this was not possible, to interview their friends, associates, and students…. He selected 30 who were responsible for 12 major milestones (chapters) in the development of cardiac surgery…. Cooper does an excellent job of explaining and simplifying the underlying pathophysiology of cardiac surgery, making it relatively easy for a layperson to understand. What makes the book truly interesting are the first-hand interviews with many of the pioneers as well as with their colleagues and rivals. The author does an excellent job of weaving these into this history and is not reluctant to voice his own opinion about these individuals and the relative importance of their accomplishments…. This easily readable book clearly adds a new dimension to the history of cardiac surgery. I recommend Open Heart to all current and future cardiac surgeons and to any reader who enjoys a good story about the history of medicine." — Fred A. Crawford, Jr., M.D., Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)

"Fascinating…. He has managed to capture what it must have felt like to have been involved through a series of anecdotal descriptions of the major developments in cardiac surgery…. This book will certainly appeal to anyone with an interest in cardiac surgery but it also deserves to reach a larger audience. Those with an interest in medical history will welcome this book and where some technical knowledge is required, good explanations are given in language the interested layperson would understand. The intellect, skill, determination and bravery of those involved is clearly demonstrated in Cooper’s text but one cannot help but wonder how many of these pioneers, many of then rightly deserving the description ‘maverick’, would have thrived in today’s increasingly regulated and stifling environment." — Steve Livesey, Annals of The Royal College of Surgeons of England

"Open Heart is a rich oral history of the ‘golden age’ of heart surgery and a valuable addition to the literature. Cooper's writing brings the men and their accomplishments to life…. An enjoyable and exciting read for those interested in cardiac surgery and surgical pioneers who have changed the world." — John C. Madsen, M.D., American Journal of Transplantation

"A very entertaining book that offers a unique perspective on the pioneers of cardiovascular surgery." — O.H. Frazier, M.D., Texas Heart Institute Journal

"Present at the first heart transplant in the UK and colleague of several pioneering cardiac surgeons, Cooper has the ideal background to write an insider's history of the development of open-heart surgery…. Talented and ambitious surgeons and medical device inventors pushed the boundaries of what cardiac surgery could accomplish. They performed risky and often unsuccessful operations on patients who were so ill they had little to lose, but the knowledge gained led to life-saving advances. This is not just a technical account of surgical breakthroughs; to enhance his narrative, Cooper interviewed many surgeons from the early years, often provoking candid—and sometimes eyebrow-raising—comments…. [A] comprehensive, well-crafted history." — Library Journal

"In this well-researched history of heart transplants, surgeon Cooper shares his interviews with more than 60 sources, including his former colleague, Christiaan Bernard, who performed the first human heart transplant. Cooper combines medical facts with personal facts about himself and the cowboys of the field, letting readers in on what these larger-than-life doctors did in and out of the operating room. Much of Cooper’s first-person account is tabloid worthy. For example, he tells about the tax-evasion trial of Clarence Walton Lillehei, who designed prosthetic valves and an external, battery-powered pacemaker. The prosecution called 164 witnesses who talked about how the surgeon claimed parties, gifts to girlfriends, and a call girl as deductible expenses. Spicy tales give way in some sections to overly technical passages, but overall this is a fascinating account of the colorful men who pioneered what is now a common surgical procedure." — Booklist

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