Permissionless Surgical Innovation

(p. 15) When a patient’s heart gave out on the cardiac surgeon Denton Cooley’s operating table in 1969, he refused to let the man go gently into that good night. Instead, he dispatched an associate to find a sheep and pluck out its heart. Cooley sewed it into his patient’s chest. This was apparently the kind of thing you could do — without asking anyone’s permission — in the 1960s.

The patient died (of course) but Cooley pressed on. A year later, he tried another experimental procedure — an artificial heart developed and some would say stolen from his rival at Baylor University in Houston. He never asked the university’s permission because, well, that would have required going through a committee run by said rival. “We administered to Baylor University the biggest enema,” Cooley reportedly told a colleague after the surgery. “It will be remembered in years to come.”

And this, readers, is how the first artificial heart came to be implanted in a patient. (The man survived three days with the device, before receiving a transplant from a donor and dying the following day.) Such are the brazen feats that Mimi Swartz chronicles in her book “Ticker,” a brief history of the artificial heart. Swartz is an executive editor of Texas Monthly, and she is based in Houston, home to four medical schools and much of the last century’s pioneering heart research. These are physicians who have a lot more in common, she writes, “with the people who crossed Everest’s Khumbu Icefall or took the first steps on the moon.”

For the full review, see:

Sarah Zhang. “The Tin Man’s Dilemma.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, Sept. 22, 2018): 15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 17, 2018, and has the title “The Quest to Create and Perfect an Artificial Heart.”)

The book under review, is:

Swartz, Mimi. Ticker: The Quest to Create an Artificial Heart. New York: Crown, 2018.

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