Friday, Oct. 21, 2011

Heart and Brain Surgery — Never Gonna Happen

The average human life span is significantly longer now than it was in the 19th century, and we have modern practices like heart and brain surgery partially to thank for that. But there used to be doubt that those surgeries could ever happen. Medical attitudes of that time reveal that some were not interested in making any surgical advances. "The abdomen, the chest and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon," announced Sir John Eric Erichsen, a British doctor appointed Surgeon Extraordinary to Queen Victoria, in 1873. In 1884, though, the first modern brain surgery was performed when British surgeon Rickman Godlee successfully removed a brain tumor. Eleven years after that, Norwegian surgeon Axel Cappelen performed the first heart surgery at Rikshospitalet in Oslo. Erichsen was wrong, but he wasn't in doubt.