First Successful Open-Heart Surgery Patient Reunited With DoctorAP , Associated Press
Aug. 13, 1987 1:56 AM ET
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ The first person to successfully undergo open-heart surgery had a reunion with the physician who performed the operation nearly 35 years ago.
''She started a new era,'' Dr. C. Walton Lillehei said about Jackie Johnson Weeks at the reunion Tuesday.
On Sept. 2, 1952, University of Minnesota surgeons and 5-year-old Jackie Johnson, who suffered from a life-threatening heart defect, made medical history.
The surgeons took 19 hours to lower her body temperature 17 degrees, wrapping her in rubber blankets that conducted a cold alcohol solution. They cut off all blood flow in her body for 5 1/2 minutes while they worked inside the heart.
''Last year 500,000 open-heart operations were done worldwide,'' Lillehei said. ''That's about 2,000 a day.''
Lillehei recently tracked Weeks down in Bonita Springs, Fla., where she lives with her husband and two children, ages 4 and 7.
Weeks was born with a large hole in the wall that separates the two upper chambers of the heart. Because of the defect, blood sloshed between the walls instead of falling into the chambers and getting pumped out.
The defect leaves people undersized and subject to severe infections, Lillehei said, killing about 50 percent of its victims before they reach age 20 unless they have surgery.
Repairs were impossible before 1952 because doctors lacked the ability to stop circulation safely so they could work inside the heart.