Clinical Review

Recent advances: Cardiac surgery

BMJ 1997; 315 doi: (Published 12 July 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;315:104
  1. Tom Treasure, professor of cardiothoracic surgerya
  1. a Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, St George's Hospital, London SW17 0QT


    Three heart operations in the past 18 months have been featured on British radio and television programmes and made headline news in the Sunday papers. Mr Stephen Westaby announced in the Sunday Times of 29 October 1995 that the implantation of a new artificial heart was a “first” for Oxford. The Bristol group, led by Professor Gianni Angelini, reported on BBC radio's Today programme on 15 February 1996 that they had performed the world's first combined angioplasty and “key hole” coronary operation. And then came the BBC 1 QED television programme “Brave Hearts” on 22 May, heralded by that morning's Today programme and articles in the Sunday Times (19 May) and Independent (May 20), announcing a series of left ventricular reduction operations performed in Bristol.

    When medical advances are announced in the popular media even the best read doctors are put in a position where their patients seem more up to date than they, and specialists are upstaged by friends and colleagues who heard the latest advance on the radio before breakfast. How is the average medical practitioner, hearing these broadcasts or reading about them in the Sunday papers, to know were to place these self proclaimed advances in the context of cardiac surgery? I will attempt to do this, but I cannot tell you whether they will lead somewhere important or if they are among the many blind alleys we enter in our search for a way ahead. The research cul-de-sac usually becomes forgotten, but at the time it might have seemed as likely a route to take as any other.

    As an illustration of this uncertainty, in September 1948 a visitor to the operating theatres of Guy's Hospital would have had the opportunity to witness two pioneering operations. In one theatre was Mr Russell Brock (later Lord Brock, …

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