A History of Cardiac Surgery: An Adventurous Voyage from Antiquity to the Artificial Heart

The beginning of cardiac surgery is generally considered to be the successful repair of a wound of the heart that took place on the 7th of September 1896 in Frankfurt am Main. This operation put an end to the widespread belief that nature had set the heart beyond the limits of surgery. The successive development of heart surgery moved together with other advances that were rapidly taking place in various fields of medicine and surgery and which, already in the first half of the 20th century, had allowed surgical pioneers to successfully correct a number of congenital and acquired heart diseases by adopting closed-heart techniques. Undoubtedly, the most notable progress in the history of cardiac surgery took place between the second half of the 1950s and the end of the 1960s with the introduction of extra-corporeal circulation that allowed surgeons to perform interventions under direct vision within the bloodless heart chambers. This fundamental technological innovation fostered the development of surgical procedures that are still adopted to this day. Among these that must be mentioned are the correction of complex congenital heart diseases, the designing and creation of implantable prosthetic heart valves, the introduction of coronary artery surgery, the repair of severe diseases of the aorta, the commencement of heart transplantation, and the first implantation of an artificial heart. This book narrates these fascinating and sometimes dramatic events, as well as detailing some of the greatest pioneers of cardiac surgery.


Ugo Filippo Tesler has been involved in cardiac surgery for over fifty years, and has witnessed its evolution from the early 1960s up to the present day. He worked in Houston under Michael DeBakey and Denton Cooley when the extraordinary development of heart surgery was taking place. Upon returning to Italy, he was appointed Chief of the Department of Cardiovascular Surgery of the San Carlo Hospital in Potenza, a multi-regional reference centre in Southern Italy. He is currently Director of the International School of Cardiac Surgery of the Ettore Majorana Foundation and the Centre for Scientific Culture in Erice, Sicily. He is a member of numerous scientific societies, and served as President of the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society from 2010 to 2012. He has published four books and over 100 scientific papers.

“This book, from an experienced and recognized cardiac surgeon, belongs on the bookshelf of anyone interested in cardiac surgery and should be required reading for anyone pursuing a career in cardiac surgery. It contains exactly the correct balance between historical detail, physiologic reasoning, biomedical development and the personalities that made this remarkable transition from scorn to fruition possible. The book is comprehensive, providing well referenced detail for anyone wishing further exploration, yet not bogging down the reader with excessive information. A particularly satisfying aspect of the writing is the development of concepts frequently using advances in disciplines such as cardiology and how those concepts led to advances in cardiac surgery. Appropriate recognition is given to the thought leaders in those parallel sciences. […]. The development of cardiac surgery is like a giant spider web and it takes a lot of wisdom and perspective to understand and convey the complex links that tie one advance to another. Dr. Tesler accomplishes this beautifully and with remarkable understanding. Throughout the book there are delightful anecdotes based on direct knowledge of the personalities involved with subtle efforts to gloss over some of the human frailties of the characters involved. The book is immensely readable and, as the title implies, very complete without becoming encyclopedic. […] The book, although remarkably complete, is very well referenced giving the reader a great head start for the further exploration of any aspect of cardiac surgery. Contemporary studies comparing treatment modalities that would require lengthy reviews to elucidate are summarized by a scholar with the wisdom that comes from years of immersion in our specialty. Cardiac surgery touches many lives; patients, families of patients and those whose innate curiosity about the mysteries of the heart may be satisfied with additional knowledge. Thus, the audience for this concise history is widespread and suited for a lay as well as professional audience.”
Andrew S. Wechsler, MD, FACC, FAHA
Emeritus Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Drexel University, USA; Editor Emeritus, The Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery

“A History of Cardiac Surgery by Dr Ugo Filippo Tesler is a masterpiece work that presents an interesting, thoughtful, precise and accurate account of the advances and setbacks of cardiac surgery from its inception to the present day. Complete with rare photographs and unusual vignettes, Dr Tesler weaves a grand tapestry of disparate specialties and scientists creating an environment that allowed heart surgery to evolve to its present-day sophistication. […] I can recommend this book unhesitatingly to cardiac surgeons, physicians, students, health professionals and the reading public who are interested in the history and development of cardiac surgery.”
Gerald M. Lemole, MD
First W. Samuel Carpenter III Distinguished Chair of Cardiovascular Surgery, Christiana Care Health System; Professor of Surgery (retired), Thomas Jefferson University, USA

“The adventure of the development of heart surgery narrated by Ugo Filippo Tesler in this book is particularly exciting to the reader because the author, who is himself a brilliant and dedicated heart surgeon, had the fortune and the privilege of having experienced first-hand the most important moments of the development of heart surgery alongside some of the most eminent pioneers of the discipline. The personal acquaintance with many of the great masters who have made the history of heart surgery has allowed Ugo Filippo Tesler to detail many aspects of their personality, to appreciate their extraordinary merits as well as to recognize their weaknesses, their frailties, their doubts. The result is a book that offers not only an objective and documented historical record of the facts, but that gives the reader something more and unique: emotion.”
Ottavio Alfieri
Professor of Cardiac Surgery, San Raffaele University Hospital, Milano, Italy; Past President, European Association for Cardiothoracic Surgery

“I consider a relevant asset for a historical book being written by a direct observer of events. This insider view, of course, has been made possible by the impetuous development in almost every field of medicine, and noticeably within the specialties whose progress are more closely bound to technological progress, which nowadays allows a historical analysis of facts taking place even in a recent, relatively short time span. Ugo Filippo Tesler, for decades Chief of the Cardiovascular Surgery Department he founded in Potenza (Italy), either personally witnessed the events mentioned or had them recounted by the protagonists themselves, having had the privilege to work in Houston under Michael De Bakey and Denton Cooley during those special 1960s, which represent perhaps the most exciting season in the field, when innovative surgical procedures and medical devices were first realized and implemented. The author accompanies us, in a detailed, yet clear and captivating writing, through the most notable steps of this complex, adventurous and sometimes frantic story, up to the present. The narration is a kind of vivid fresco, which analyzes the foreground in the meantime depicting clearly its intricate background. Great attention is paid not only to the development of surgical procedures, but to the multidisciplinary array of technological innovations, such as the extra-corporeal circulation, which made possible the most daring interventions. Particularly appealing is the space given to the mind behind the man, to the temperament of the most prominent characters, which is delineated also on their personal aspects besides those related to their profession. […] I can say impartially that it represents a lively, truly stimulating approach to historical facts.”
Giorgio Zanchin, MD
Past President, International Society for the History of Medicine; Former Director, Neurologic Clinic, Padua University Medical School, Italy

“Ugo Tesler chronicles the important events in Europe and North Americas in a very engaging and lucid style. He has included the progress through the 19th and the 20th centuries with glimpses from even an earlier era. The details in a story telling narrative accompanied by an impressive picture gallery instantly involve the reader in the drama of cardiac surgery. This is especially true for an old timer like myself. I lived through many of the events though much separated in geography and demography. The book delightfully takes us through personal traits of surgeons with anecdotes, some known and some not so well-known. They were all strong personalities with likes and dislikes, with varied interests. Their competitive spirit, however, was aware of the need to collaborate even across the Atlantic as depicted by Sir Russel Brock travelling to see Dr. Kirklin operate or inviting Denton Cooley to the Royal Brompton Hospital in London. The frailties or setbacks like the legal problems of C Walton Lillehei or egoistic nature of DeBakey are chronicled with respect, empathy and admiration, making the gods of cardiac surgery human. Although the author’s narrative is mainly based on his personal experience and recollections of his career while in the US, he has traced the origin of many concepts of surgical milestones to surgeons from other countries. The book with an elegant cover and interesting contents is sure to find a place among other books on the history of cardiac surgery. Ugo Tesler has succeeded in conveying what made cardiac surgery such a glamorous and highly sought-after specialty of the twentieth century. Many young surgeons in cardio-thoracic surgery these days are having second thoughts. The long training period and the limelight shifting towards interventional cardiologists cause concerns and doubts about the future. The author reassures them with the rich legacy and excitements of new horizons in cardiac surgery.”
Ratna Magotra
Former Professor and Chief, Cardiovascular Thoracic Surgery, K.E.M Hospital, Mumbai, India

“Time passes inexorably and the number of cardiac surgeons who lived through and contributed significantly to, perhaps, the most exciting times of surgical development inevitably diminishes. Thus, the testimony of a lived experience of those times becomes, perforce, less available; history becomes second and third hand and thus in the hands of the author. We are truly fortunate that Dr Ugo Tesler being one of the dwindling few is such a man. He is able to claim as friend many of the most significant names in the development of this wonderful and exciting surgical specialty. His book, A History of Cardiac Surgery is testament to that. This personal insight makes this book quite special in the annals of surgical history. It is beautifully written with many first-hand anecdotes and a profound knowledge of the history of the development of surgical techniques and so importantly, the development of the necessary technology. Dr Tesler covers the history from the dawn of modern surgery and anaesthesia to the most modern times. […] The book is a treasure trove of fascinating detail and pantheon of names that must not be forgotten in our specialty. Written with a light touch and a real sense of humour and an appreciation of the lives that we strive to enhance, this book should be compulsive reading for all setting out in this wonderful specialty.”
Francis Wells
Royal Papworth Hospital, NHS Foundation Trust, UK

“Anyone interested in medical history, scientific discovery, and an entertaining story will find this book a delight to read. Others have reported the discoveries and technical advances of the past century that led to the successful surgical treatment of heart disease, but Tesler also tells the stories behind the stories. A cardiac surgeon for 50 years, Tesler is uniquely qualified as the author because he witnessed many of the events he relates and knew many of the pioneering surgeons. He trained with two of the most notable, Michael DeBakey and Denton Cooley, during the 1960s and 1970s, a period of explosive growth in the techniques and application of cardiac surgery. The book is appealing and readable. Each chapter places a surgical problem in historical context, then briefly discusses the advance that resolved it and its relevance to treatment today. Then comes a chronology of the early attempts to treat each disorder, with an in-depth account of each discovery or new technique, the pioneer’s personal struggle, and the clinical outcomes. Even more rewarding is the dramatic story of each pioneer’s life afterward. […] The book is very well written and should fascinate both medical professionals and the lay public. It accurately summarizes many significant and pioneering achievements in cardiac surgery in the 20th century. The author’s personal accounts of the pioneers and their work also add to the book’s appeal and enrich the presentation.”
James J. Livesay, MD,
Department of Cardiac Surgery, Texas Heart Institute; Texas Heart Institute Journal • August 2020, Vol. 47, No. 4

Buy This Book

ISBN: 1-5275-4248-3

ISBN13: 978-1-5275-4248-8

Release Date: 3rd January 2020

Pages: 542

Price: £81.99

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