John Heysham Gibbon Jr

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John Heysham Gibbon Jr.

1903-1973

American Surgeon

Inventor of the heart-lung machine, John H. Gibbon, Jr., first demonstrated that life can be maintained by an external pump acting as an artificial heart during an operation on a cat in 1935. Eighteen years later, in 1953, Gibbon performed the first successful open-heart operation using a heart-lung machine.

Born in Philadelphia on September 29, 1903, Gibbon was the second of four children born to John Heysham Gibbon (a surgeon) and Marjorie Young Gibbon. He earned his B.A. from Princeton University in 1923, and his M.D. from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1927. He completed his internship at Pennsylvania Hospital in 1929, and in 1930 went to Harvard Medical School as a research fellow in surgery.

In 1931 Gibbon married Mary Hopkinson, a surgical researcher, and took a position as fellow in medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. In the same year he became assistant surgeon at Pennsylvania Hospital. In 1934 he went to work as a research fellow in surgery at Harvard Medical School, where he developed the first generation of his heart-lung machine using a rotating blood-film oxygenator. Then, on May 10, 1935, he made his first successful use of the heart-lung machine during an operation on a cat in which the device took over cardiac and respiratory functions.

Gibbon began work as a surgeon at Pennsylvania Hospital in 1937, and in the following year developed a second-generation version of his machine using DeBakey roller pumps. In 1940, before America entered World War II, he joined the U.S. Army Reserves as a major in the medical corps, and in 1942 was sent on active duty to New Caledonia in the south Pacific. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1944, and in 1945 acted as chief of surgical service at Mayo General Hospital in Galensburg, Illinois.

From 1945 to 1946, Gibbon worked as assistant professor of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and served as a member of council for the American Association of Thoracic Surgery. He became professor of surgery and director of surgical research at Jefferson Medical College, as well as attending surgeon at Jefferson Medical College Hospital, in 1946. Gibbon held both positions for 10 years, and served as chairman of the editorial board for Annals of Surgery from 1947 to 1957.

In 1949 IBM developed the model I heart-lung machine with a revolving film oxygenator, and in 1951 produced the model II oxygenator. On May 6, 1953, Gibbon performed the first successful bypass surgery, the repair of an atrial septal defect on an 18-year-old female, using the heart-lung machine. In 1954 IBM produced its model III, which cost $79,650—or about $320,000 in 1990s dollars.

In 1956 Gibbon became the Samuel D. Gross professor of surgery and head of the surgery department at Jefferson Medical College and Hospital, positions he would hold until 1967. During this same period, he worked as attending surgeon in chief. Gibbon also worked as consulting surgeon at Pennsylvania Hospital and as consultant in general surgery for the Veterans Administration Hospital in Philadelphia from 1950 to 1967. In 1959 he was appointed Taub visiting professor of surgery at Baylor Medical College, and in 1960 visiting professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School.

Gibbon served as a member, fellow, and officer of numerous professional organizations, ranging from the board of governors for the American College of Surgeons (1950-64) to the Pennsylvania Medical Society, for which he served as delegate at large from 1961-63. He held posts and memberships on some two dozen other organizations. His awards included the Distinguished Service Award from the International College of Surgery (1959), an honorary fellowship from the Royal College of Surgeons in England (1959), the Gairdner Foundation International Award from the University of Toronto (1960), an honorary Sc.D. from Princeton University (1961) and the University of Pennsylvania (1965), the Research Achievement Award from the American Heart Association (1965); the Albert Lasker Clinical Research Award (1968), the Dixon Prize in Medicine from the University of Pennsylvania (1972), and many others.

Gibbon himself suffered from heart trouble in his later years. He had his first myocardial infarction in July 1972, and died of a massive myocardial infarction while playing tennis on February 5, 1973.

JUDSON KNIGHT

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