Harriet S.MeyerMD, Contributing EditorJonathan D.EldredgeMLS, PhD, Journal Review EditorRobertHoganMD, adviser for new media
Shortly before John H. Gibbon, Jr's, first birthday, his father operated unsuccessfully on a patient with a very large hole in his heart. Forty-nine years later, his son became the world's first surgeon to successfully close an even bigger cardiac defect by using a heart-lung machine, which had taken him two decades to develop. Even at family chess games, young Jack usually beat his father because, as the latter explained, "he took so ‘infernally' long over his moves."
Jack Gibbon was competitive, yes, but in a gentlemanly way. He may have been "modest to a fault," as Denton Cooley puts it in the foreword to A Dream of the Heart. But Jack led his life without "any need whatsoever of being the slightest bit conniving in order to make a good mark in the world, to be accepted, to gain approval." The author calls Gibbon "a surgeon who wanted to be a poet." That Gibbon did not fit a stereotypical pioneer image is perhaps best illustrated by two of the author's anecdotes. Ludwig Rehn, the first man to successfully suture a cardiac wound, on September 7, 1896, "reported his experience to the German Surgical Society on the fourteenth post-operative day." Gibbon, in contrast, "sought no publicity" after performing the world's first successful bypass-assisted open heart operation. "He let a few friends know about the operation. That was all."
BiographyA Dream of the Heart: The Life of John H. Gibbon, Jr, Father of the Heart-Lung Machine. JAMA. 1999;282(13):1295-1296. doi:10.1001/jama.282.13.1295-JBK1006-4-1