Breakthrough Surgeon “Defied Skepticism”

(p. D8) Dr. Johnson was a reluctant surgeon — early on, he once recalled, “I disliked surgeons and their pompous attitudes” — but he applied the crocheting skills he had learned from his mother, who was a home economics teacher, and the needlecraft he was taught in a seventh-grade sewing class (he got an A), to perform more than 8,500 heart bypass operations over four decades.
. . .
Doctors had experimented with coronary artery surgery since the 1950s, the goal being to remove accumulated plaque caused by cholesterol deposits, which can block blood flow and cause the stabbing pain of angina. One method was to remove the clogged portion of an artery and graft on a replacement patch of cardiac membrane or a segment of vein from a leg.
In 1968, Dr. Johnson and his team took another path, sewing segments of veins from multiple arteries end to end and stitching them directly into the aorta, the body’s main artery, bypassing cardiac ducts where the flow of blood was impeded.
His breakthrough, reported the next year, defied skepticism within the medical profession and heralded a new era of successful double, triple and quadruple bypass surgeries.
“It was perhaps the presentation of Johnson in the spring of 1969 that had the greatest impact on the widespread use” of coronary artery bypass grafting, Dr. Eugene A. Hessel II wrote in “Cardiac Anesthesia: Principles and Clinical Practice,” published in 2001.
To facilitate surgery, Dr. Johnson made another breakthrough by temporarily stopping the heart and slowing the body’s metabolism by cooling and circulating the blood through a heart-lung machine.
. . .
Dr. Johnson’s multiple bypass surgeries, which could take as long as nine hours and were often accompanied by classical music in the operating room, were credited with saving an untold number of lives.
But in an interview with Dr. William S. Stoney for “Pioneers of Cardiac Surgery” (2008), Dr. Johnson said “the single biggest thing I ever did to lower mortality” was to prescribe the drug allopurinol, which is ordinarily used to inhibit the production of uric acid (high levels of it can cause gout), but which has also been found to improve survival in cardiac patients by improving their capacity for exercise.
. . .
“The coronary artery bypass graft operation does nothing for the basic cause of the disease,” Dr. Johnson said, adding, “Prevention is, of course, the ultimate answer.”

For the full obituary, see:
SAM ROBERTS. “W. Dudley Johnson, Heart Bypass Pioneer, Dies at 86.” The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 31, 2016): D8.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date OCT. 30, 2016, and has the title “W. Dudley Johnson, Heart Bypass Surgery Pioneer, Dies at 86.”)

Stoney’s book mentioned above, is:
Stoney, William S. Pioneers of Cardiac Surgery. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2008.

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