Heart and Lung Machine (From the Collection #5)

The Story

The creation of a functional heart and lung bypass machine in the early 1950s was a milestone in the history of heart surgery. Prior to WWI, the average survival rate for heart operations was less than forty percent. Twentieth-century technological innovations such as the invention of x-ray machines, the discovery of anti-coagulants, and the advent of antibiotics, have all contributed to the advancement of modern cardiac medicine.

In 1932, during his Harvard fellowship, American surgeon John Gibbon began constructing a machine capable of artificially circulating and oxygenating a patient’s blood; he believed it would allow surgeons sufficient time to repair a damaged heart muscle. Following WWII, Gibbon became Director of Surgical Research at Jefferson College, where he shared research and collaborated with surgical residents and engineers to perfect his sophisticated heart-lung machine. These researchers faced the challenge of circulating blood at a safe speed, pressure, and temperature, while preventing lethal air bubbles and clotting. Five hospitals across North America each began devising their own heart-lung machine using various oxygenation methods; however, beyond Gibbon’s design only Dr. C.W. Lillehei from the University of Minnesota had any success. Lillehei’s machine linked the circulatory system of the patient with another volunteer in a cross-circulation technique. Gibbon, working with IBM, developed his Model II, which he used in May of 1953 in the first successful open-heart surgery in history.

By the late 1950s several manufacturers were designing and producing heart-lung machines. The machine pictured here was manufactured in England by New Electronic Products Ltd. in 1958 and was purchased by Kingston General Hospital in that same year; however, concerns over the oxygenator delayed its immediate implementation. Canadian engineer Fred Siemonsen devised a new oxygenator in 1959, and the machine was put into service in January of 1960. At less than half the size of the standard machines of the day, the new oxygenator was more efficiently sterilized and could thus be more quickly reused.

Alongside improvements in surgical techniques, the heart-lung machine allowed for exploration of the heart like never before. Today, in-procedure mortality is less than 5%, and nearly 70% of patients resume a full lifestyle after the operation. Thanks to the innovative work of Dr. Gibbon and those who came after, open heart surgery is now a common procedure worldwide.

Reading List:

  1. Alexi-Meskishvili, Vladimir. Suturing of Penetrating Wounds to the Heart in the Nineteenth Century: The Beginnings of Heart Surgery. The Annals of Thoracic Surgery, Volume 92, Issue 5, Nov 2011. http://journals1.scholarsportal.info.proxy.queensu.ca/show_html.
  2. Braile, Domingo B. History of Heart Surgery in the World. Brazilian Journal of Cardiovascular Surgery, Volume 27, Issue 1, Jan-Mar 2012. http://www.rbccv.org.br/article/1968/History_of_heart_surgery_in_the_world
  3. Cohn, Lawrence H. Fifty Years of Open-Heart Surgery. Circulation Journal, American Heart Association, 2003; 107:2168-2170. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/107/17/2168
  4. Iaizzo, Paul A. [Chapter] 30: Cardiopulmonary Bypass and Cardioplegia. Handbook of Cardiac Anatomy, Physiology, and Devices, 2nd edition. http://link.springer.com.proxy.queensu.ca/chapter/10.1007%2F978-1-60327-372-5_30/fulltext.html#ContactOfAuthor1
  5. Nolen, William A. A Short History of Heart Surgery. American Heritage Magazine, Volume 34, Issue 5, 1983. http://www.americanheritage.com/content/short-history-heart-surgery
  6. Shaw, Cheryl I. Heart lung machines. Biomedical Instrumentation & Technology, Volume 42, Issue 3, 2008. 215-8. http://search.proquest.com/docview/208674713?accountid=6180

The Specs

ACCESSION # (Web Link):997030001 a-b
Object Name:Melrose N.E.P. Extra Corporeal Heart and Lung Machine
Manufacturer (Country):New Electronic Products Ltd. (England)
Date Made:1958
MESH Code:Oxygenators
Heart, Mechanical
Cardiopulmonary Bypass — instrumentation

Additional Images

About “From the Collection”

“From the Collection” was a project originally published in 2010 to the Museum of Health Care’s website by former Curator Paul Robertson, with the goal being to highlight some the Museum’s most unique items that might be missed in our collection. Each artifact is presented as a bite-sized story, related information, and a link to it’s fully detailed entry on our free online digital catalogue!

Posts in the “From the Collection” series were originally created with support from Funded by the Ontario Museums and Technology Fund. The support of the Government of Ontario, through the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, is acknowledged.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s