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Open Heart: Intracardiac Surgery at the University of Minnesota

The Cross-Circulated Heart

Announcement

C. Walton Lillehei announcing the first clinically successful open heart surgery operation using controlled cross circulation during a press conference

C. Walton Lillehei announcing the first clinically successful operations using controlled cross circulation

By the end of April 1954, surgeons at the University had successfully repaired heart defects in three patients using controlled cross circulation - a fact then known only to staff of the University hospitals and few others.  Department of Surgery head Owen Wangensteen asked William T. Harris, Jr., director of the University News Service, to prepare for a public announcement of the cross circulation method and acknowledgement of the University’s medical accomplishment.

On April 30, 1954, a press conference was held in the auditorium of the Variety Club Heart Hospital to announce the success of the surgical method of controlled cross circulation for open heart surgery.  Dr. Lillehei and his team explained the procedure to members of the popular press and demonstrated the operation of the pump used during the surgery.  Lillehei also introduced five-year-old Pamela Schmidt, the third patient to receive corrective heart surgery using the cross circulation method. Pamela was accompanied by her mother Mary and father Ronald, who served as Pamela’s donor during the operation.  A four-page news release prepared by Harris was subsequently sent to major newspaper wire services, local newspapers, and radio and television stations.  On May 1, 1954, the day following the press conference, controlled cross circulation was a front page story in newspapers across the country.