On September 2, 1952, a sickly Jacqueline Johnson came to the University of Minnesota Hospitals for help.
Jacqueline, the 5-year-old daughter of traveling carnival workers, had an atrial septal defect that needed repair—a repair that had never been done before. But pioneering University surgeon F. John Lewis, M.D., Ph.D., took the bold move of attempting the fix.
Assisted by Richard Varco, M.D., Ph.D., and C. Walton Lillehei, M.D., Ph.D., Lewis brought all the knowledge gleaned from his laboratory studies to Jacqueline’s critical surgery. Following anesthesia, he cooled her body to 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Hypothermia slowed her heartbeat and allowed Lewis to access the right atrium of her heart to repair the defect.
Following open-heart massage and chest closure, Lewis’s team warmed Jacqueline’s 29-pound body in a tub—in fact, a watering trough ordered from the Sears Roebuck catalog. Eleven days later, Jacqueline went home, and history was made. Hers was the world’s first successful open-heart surgery.
It all happened at the intersection of innovation and medicine, making legends of the University medical team, lab researchers, and Jacqueline Johnson, who is still alive and well 60 years later.