From the Archives: Stopped-heart surgery
An operation on Feb. 17, 1956, kicked off a new era of heart surgery at Cleveland Clinic. A team led by Donald Effler, MD, and Laurence Groves, MD, performed a series of stopped-heart operations between February and April 1956. The team connected the patients, who were all children, to a heart-lung machine designed by Willem Kolff, MD, another Cleveland Clinic staff member.
Once the machine had taken over pumping blood and maintaining oxygen levels throughout the body, doctors injected a dose of potassium citrate. The injection temporarily paralyzed the heart. While the heart-lung machine had proven itself in previous operations, the use of potassium citrate was new. Previously, the heart continued beating while surgeons repaired it. Under these conditions, surgery had to be completed quickly. Stopping the heart, however, allowed surgeons more time and easier working conditions.
The Feb. 17 operation, though not the first ever, was the first in a series of eight stopped-heart operations at Cleveland Clinic. Effler, Groves, Kolff, and Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Mason Sones, MD, published their results in the Cleveland Clinic Quarterly in April 1956. The Cleveland News hailed the findings as “a historic step,” while Congresswoman Frances P. Bolton praised the new technique as part of Cleveland Clinic’s tradition of pioneering medical research. Today, the heart is routinely stopped during surgery.