February 10, 1993

John Gibbon and His Heart-Lung Machine

Author Affiliations

Evansville, Ind


by Ada Romaine-Davis, 251 pp, with illus, $37.95, ISBN 0-8122-3073-6, Philadelphia, Pa, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991.

JAMA. 1993;269(6):803-804. doi:10.1001/jama.1993.03500060103046

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On October 3,1930, a young resident named John Gibbon spent all night monitoring the vital signs of a woman who had suffered a massive pulmonary embolus. At 8 the next morning her condition worsened. Dr Edward Churchill opened her chest and, within less than seven minutes, removed several large pulmonary emboli. Unfortunately, she never regained consciousness. This critical event motivated Gibbon to conceive of the idea of a heart-lung machine—something that might have saved his patient's life had it been available.

"a grandiose and 'crazy' idea"

Gibbon received little encouragement for having such a grandiose and "crazy" idea. His father, a famous surgeon, tried to steer him toward a more practical medical career. Churchill, while "not enthusiastic about the prospects for developing a workable heart-lung machine, and seriously doubting that it would ever be done," nevertheless offered Gibbon a research fellowship to work on this project. By 1937, Gibbon achieved