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December 12, 1980

To Mend the Heart: The Dramatic Story of Cardiac Surgery and Its Pioneers

Author Affiliations

Indiana University Medical School Evansville


by Lael Wertenbaker, 344 pp, with illus, $14.95, The Viking Press Inc, New York, 1980.

JAMA. 1980;244(23):2672. doi:10.1001/jama.1980.03310230066038

This article is only available in the PDF format. Download the PDF to view the article, as well as its associated figures and tables.


Nearly every surgeon who has surgically entered a living human heart is still alive. This book salutes these pioneers whose "competence, courage and physiques have transformed brave but disappointing adventures into consistent service to suffering children, women, and men." It is a story of people "unimpressed by arbitrary limitations imposed by conventional thinking." In lauding these heroes, it carefully differentiates "noble pioneering efforts" from "simple risk taking." The "generalissimo and pivotal personality" is Dwight Harken, who is correctly depicted as the man who, more than any other, "moved heart surgery up a decade. A person with less flamboyance, less ego, less drive, less confidence—and less freedom—couldn't have done it."

Concurrently, almost all of the other cardiac surgical giants are given their due.

The many anecdotes, taken largely from oral histories, prove "embarrassing to some, interesting to more, and edifying to many." Samuel Levine, for example, is quoted about an incident