The era from 1950 to 1967 was an incredible time of innovation within the University of Minnesota's Department of Surgery in the newly emerging field of open heart surgery. There were many reasons for this, but most importantly it was attributable to the following: (1) the university had excellent facilities, including a unique privately funded 80-bed heart hospital for pediatric and adult patients, and (2) the Department of surgery was led by a chair, owen H. Wangensteen, MD, who "created the milieu and the opportunities for great achievements by many of his pupils," and was considered the "mentor of a thousand surgeons" (Fig. 1, Table 1) (1).
More specifically, Dr. Wangensteen encouraged his medical students to "step out of the box," look at problems in different ways, and not assume that those who went before them had all the answers. He also believed strongly in collaborations with the basic science departments, specifically the Department of Physiology, with the department head, Maurice visscher, who
From: Handbook of Cardiac Anatomy, Physiology, and Devices Edited by: P. A. Iaizzo © Humana Press Inc., Totowa, NJ
played an integral role in supporting both research and the clinical training of surgical residents. To that end, Wangensteen instituted a 2-year research program for all residents; this surgical PhD program was the only one in the country at its inception, and it still exists today.
An important part of the innovative surge was that many surgical residents were returning from World War II, which had recently provided them with life-and-death situations when managing MASH (mobile army surgical hospital) units—they had little or no fear of death. Their generation was not afraid of "pushing the envelope" to help patients. By today's standards, they would be viewed as "mavericks" or "cowboys," but in fact they had little to lose, as on the battlefields where they received their early exposure; their patients were dying or had little chance of survival without the novel techniques successfully implemented in Minnesota.
One of these young war-experienced surgeons was C. Walton Lillehei, who returned to the university of Minnesota in 1950 to complete his surgical residency after leading an Army MASH unit in both North Africa and Italy (Fig. 2). Walt, as he was
Fig. 1. "The Chief," Dr. Owen H. Wangensteen, the youngest Surgery Department chair at age 31 years (chair from 1930 to 1967).
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