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Open Heart: Intracardiac Surgery at the University of Minnesota

The Cross-Circulated Heart

Reaction - Medical Community

On May 4, 1954, C. Walton Lillehei, Herbert Warden, and Morley Cohen presented the controlled cross circulation method to the medical community in a paper, “Controlled Cross Circulation for Intracardiac Surgery,” given during the morning session of the Thoracic Surgical Forum at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Thoracic Surgeons in Montreal, Canada.  A paper was later published in The Journal of Thoracic Surgery (Vol. 28, No. 3) in September of 1954.

The reaction to controlled cross circulation within the medical community was mixed.  Supporters congratulated the Minnesota surgeons for being the first team in the world to correct a ventricular septal defect (VSD) in the human heart. Critics questioned the use of a donor, citing that the operation could result in 200% mortality.  Dozens of surgeons visited the University to witness a cross circulation surgery from the observation domes in the operating suites.

In addition to the correction of VSD, Lillehei and his team used cross circulation to successfully operate upon two additional complicated heart defects never before repaired in man:

In 1955, Lillehei, Warden, Cohen, and Richard Varco were presented with the Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award, one of the most prestigious awards in medicine, for “advances in cardiac surgery, making possible more direct and safer approaches to the heart.”