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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 2010
This is a splendid volume, partly because it's written from a distinct vantage point: David Cooper a cardiac surgeon. It's an enjoyable read that gives a spicy account of the evolution of the specialty of cardiac surgeon by a man who was personally acquainted with many of the major players in this exciting saga.

It's organized chronologically. Chapter one leads off with an 1896 quote from New York physician B. F. Sher¬man, "The road to the heart is only 2 or 3 cm in a direct line, but it has taken 2400 years to travel it." In thirteen more chapters Cooper traces the meandering path of the specialty by con¬centrating on the lives and accomplishments of the 33 men and one woman (Helen Taussig) who contributed to the development of this ever-expanding field.

Cooper writes for a mixed audience - laymen and those trained scientifically, including physicians - and his text will appeal to both. Having almost become a cardiac surgeon myself, I was familiar with the facts of many of the milestones of the field. Cooper presents them well, including closure of a patent ductus (by Robert Gross in Boston in 1938); development of the heart lung machine (by John Gibbon, Jr. in 1953); the use of hypothermia (both the total body concept of Wilfred Bigelow in 1952 and the 1957 cardiac saline slush method of Norman Shumway); the first cardiac transplant (by Christian Barnard in 1967) and the implanting of the first artificial heart (by Denton Cooley in 1969). These and many other accounts of significant historical events are related in a readable, limpid style, a pleasant blend of biography and scientific synopsis.

But there is an additional, sparkling facet to Cooper's writing that enhances its appeal: he is a masterful interviewer. Over a period of twenty years, Cooper conversed with most of the men who were major players in this saga, or spoke with those who had trained under them. His account is full of interesting and amusing anecdotes. He includes three dozen black-and-white photographs of the various pioneers, and he supplements the snapshots with memorable verbal sketches of them, gleaned from the interviews.

Cooper asked most of those he interviewed several revealing questions. Did they get the recognition they deserved? (Most felt they had.) How did these early pioneers - whose very sick patients often did not survive - deal with death when many of their patients died as new techniques were being perfected? Belying the myth of the heartless, calloused surgeon, most experienced a dark night of the soul if they lost patients. But they persevered, and mortality rates fell as they gained ex¬perience. Cooper comments (pg 406): "Making errors of judgment, facing death on the operating table and agonizing over whether you have performed a surgical procedure adequately can all be very painful forms of `hell' to the surgeon. The lesson that heart surgeons quickly learn is, as Winston Churchill said, `If you are going through hell, keep going.' Heart surgery is not a career for someone who lacks courage, persistence, and tenacity."

The text is also pep¬pered with spicy, revealing comments. For example: Surgeon Norm Shumway attended a banquet celebrating the career of Minneapolis surgeon C. Walton Lillehei - who early on persevered in spite of the death of many of his sick patients, and whose high-flying and chaotic life style led to an investigation by the IRS. Shumway likened Lillehei to Al Capone, saying: "He killed a lot or people, but the government could only get him on unpaid taxes."

The 430 page text is supplemented by a selected bibliography and a comprehensive index. Those who read Open Heart will come away with a new appreciation of the sterling accomplishments and varied personalities of those who developed and made commonplace this once verboten branch of surgery. At $19.43 from Amazon, it's worth buying.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2010
It is certainly a book that is worth reading and I found the contents extremely engaging even although I am not a physician. It is an interesting account of innovative men that pioneered the field of heart surgery and transposed me into the depths of a discipline outside of my own. The book is easily readable by the layman, very entertaining and I highly recommend 'the radical surgeon' by David Cooper.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2011
This book is marvelous, an insider's view by a cardiothoracic surgeon of the geniuses who created and developed his field. There are interviews with the notables, biographic sketches and commentaries on these extraordinary doctors. The demigods were also human. The pictures and graphics explain it all for even the layman. You learn about courage, failings and the right stuff.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 27, 2010
This remarkable book by a noted cardiac surgeon portrays the extraordinary surgeons who developed modern cardiac surgery in the second half of the 20th century.
Prior to World War II cardiac surgery could only be performed in children with a few specific cardiac disorders outside of the heart itself. The deveopment of open-heart surgery, using a heart-lung machine by these men and their colleagues made it possible for these bold surgeons to operate inside the heart. They developed techniques to correct or replace diseased heart valves, correct complex congenital heart defects, bypass lesions in the coronary areteries and finally to perform the ultimate operation; transplantation of the heart!
Dr. Cooper worked with many of these surgeons in the US, England and South Africa. His perceptive interviews of these remarkable men and their colleagues tells the story of what these men were like, what challenges they faced; their struggles, their triumphs and their losses. Due to their efforts it is now possible to surgically correct almost every cardiac disorder. They indeed had "the right stuff"!
This is a great read of a great success story.
James E. Dalen, MD, MPH
Author of University Hospital: Docors and Patients.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The book is a well organized series of anecdotes gathered by the author, based on his personal interviews of the surgeons in question and/or their colleagues who were close observers. Dr. Cooper presents, from an insider's perspective, the story of the evolution of operations on the heart rather than the didactic history of the development of cardiac surgery. His narrative is devoid of overly scientific jargon and technical minutiae that often burden similar books. It is an easy compelling read for the layman and the professional alike. Although the work is not comprehensive, it certainly fulfills its intention to humanize its subjects by projecting a multidimensional aspect of their personalities; the equanimity, generosity, perseverance, intensity of focus and intellectual brilliance balanced by pettiness, jealousy, avarice, competitiveness and egomania mixed with a little mendacity, larceny and promiscuity. These demi-gods of medical science were just human, after all.
As a surgeon and medical history maven, I found the book to be more entertaining than informative, but I have no doubt that it will be both for the general public.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2011
This is an excellent book, very well written and vividly descriptive. Dr Cooper deserves praise for pursuing this bunch of weirdos also known as "brilliant surgeons". He describes well the unusual personality combination of creative, pioneering, successful surgeons and complete abject failures in inter-personal relations and in living a balanced life.

His description of the elevator-shoe wearing, Lebanese midget, Michel Dabaghi, aka Michael DeBakey, is well done even though the author was clearly in fear of this nasty, sadistic creature who treated his residents with cruelty and contempt. The author does not describe DeBakey's home life even though he was married twice and had five children. The inference is that his kids and wife must have suffered greatly.

He tells of Denton Cooley pulling down twenty million dollars a year and describes Christian Barnard chasing the girls and losing interest in surgery.

The book was interesting to me personally since it describes the long evolution of the heart-lung machine that permitted me to lie on the operating table with my heart stopped for 59 minutes and to wake up with no memory problems or other losses.

We all owe a big debt to this strange gang of Cut and Sew guys who have made such a difference in all of our lives.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2012
First I have to admit that I'm more than average interested in the history of medicine and surgery, second I'm a resident in cardiothoravic surgery (final year). That said, this book is a gem, as close as you'll get to a pageturner on this subject. All the founding fathers in the field are presented, as far as I can see, lacking none. The timeline in the past 60-70 years of CTS is presented in cronological order, written in a clear language, thankfully not relying on surgical lingo, making it a good read to the layperson aswell. Highly recomended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2012
Excellent book!. After I read this, I bought two more as gifts for two cardiovascular surgeons. I really recommend this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 12, 2012
While as a surgeon I may have a particularly high interest in this book, it is well written for the lay public as well with clear explanations of complex medical topics and surgical procedures. Above all this is a people book made especially interesting by Dr.Cooper knowing and interviewing all of the major characters. It is also a significant contibution to the history of medicine.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2013
the title of this book is a bit boring, but the content is amazing. my father who isn't in medicine loved it as well. for anyone involved in open-heart surgery it is especially good. great stories about people i know of and some i didn't. it is a definite buy.
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