1891: The victim of a stab wound becomes the first person to undergo heart surgery involving the suturing of the pericardium, or heart sac.
James Cornish, 22, sustained a 2-inch tear to the pericardium when he was stabbed during a fight. The wounded man was taken to City Hospital in St. Louis, where the decision was made to attempt surgery.
It was a controversial decision, because opening the chest cavity to repair wounds to the heart was not yet accepted practice, owing to the excessive risks involved. Nevertheless, with Cornish’s temperature at 101 and his complaining of pain, faintness, nausea and loss of feeling on his left side, Dr. H.C. Dalton made the decision to go in.
Dalton made an 8-inch incision and removed part of the fourth rib to get to the damaged heart sac, then sutured it — no mean feat considering Cornish’s heart was pounding at a rate of 140 beats per minute. Following the motion of the beating heart, Dalton stitched up the tear with catgut.
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It was touch-and-go for a while: Dalton’s account says it appeared that Cornish came close to dying during the surgery, but hypodermic injections of whiskey and strychnia revived him. The surgical team used sterilized, warm water to irrigate the wound area, then stitched him up. Once he turned the corner, Cornish made a full recovery.
Source: Today in Science
Illustration: The human heart and pericardium, or heart covering. (Corbis)
This article first appeared on Wired on Sept. 6, 2007.