Hugh Henry Bentall

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 03 December 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8010
  1. Anne Gulland, London
  1. annecgulland{at}

Pioneer in heart-lung surgery

In April 1959, at the height of the cold war, a team of specialists from Hammersmith Hospital boarded a container ship and set sail for Moscow. On board the ship was the “heart-lung machine” developed by Denis Melrose and used in 1953 to perform the first successful open heart operation in the UK.

That operation was carried out by a team that included Hugh Bentall, who went on to become the first professor of cardiac surgery at Imperial College. The team’s fame had spread and at a conference a Russian heart specialist, Alexander Bakulev, challenged them to prove that the heart-lung machine worked.

As well as acting as first surgical assistant, Bentall’s job was to arrange the complex logistics for the trip and to pack everything that could “conceivably be needed to perform six operations in Moscow.”1 Once arrived in the USSR, he tested the equipment and the on-site blood transfusion facilities by performing a mitral valvotomy, a routine heart …

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