In 1956, a team of surgeons led by Donald Effler, MD, performed one of the world’s first stopped-heart surgeries. They used an artificial heart-lung machine developed by Dr. Kolff to sustain blood oxygenation to a 17-month-old baby while his tiny heart was surgically repaired. The heart was taken off the machine post-surgery and resumed beating on its own. The following year, Dr. Kolff implanted the first completely artificial heart in a lab animal. Dr. Kolff continued his pioneering work with artificial hearts after leaving the Cleveland Clinic in 1967 to join the University of Utah. In 1982, a University of Utah team transplanted the first totally artificial heart, based on Kolff’s design, in a 61-year-old patient.
Coronary Bypass Surgery
Building upon Dr. Sones’ pathbreaking work in angiography, Cleveland Clinic led another giant leap in the field of treating heart disease in 1967. Rene Favaloro, MD, a heart surgeon from Argentina, joined Cleveland Clinic in 1962. He had been researching how to treat obstructions in coronary arteries at Cleveland Clinic for five years. He had the most success using a portion of the saphenous vein from a patient’s leg, the longest vein in the body, to bypass a damaged section of a coronary artery and restore healthy blood flow. In a prime example of the benefits of a group practice, he pursued this treatment in part after hearing other Cleveland Clinic surgeons describe using a similar process to treat kidney ailments.
In May 1967, Dr. Favaloro conducted his first coronary artery bypass surgery using a saphenous vein, on a 57-year-old man. After eight days, Dr. Sones performed an angiography of the bypassed artery. To both doctors’ delight, “the right coronary had been completely reconstructed.”
This brilliant quintet—Dr. Page, Dr. Kolff, Dr. Sones, Dr. Effler and Dr. Favaloro—established national pre-eminence in cardiac care that Cleveland Clinic maintains to this day.
Within a few years, cardiac patients were flocking to Cleveland Clinic from around the world. Coronary bypass surgery became the most-performed major surgical procedure in the world, improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of patients.
Building upon that tremendous success, a string of heart care firsts followed. In 1996, the first minimally invasive aortic heart valve surgery was developed at Cleveland Clinic by a team led by former Cleveland Clinic CEO and President Toby Cosgrove, MD. Doctors at Cleveland Clinic discovered the first “heart attack” gene in 2003. In 2013, Stanley Hazen, MD, and Wilson Tang, MD, discovered that certain bacteria in the human gut produce an enzyme called TMAO that increases the chance of heart disease by decreasing the amount of cholesterol eliminated by the human body. And in 2016, Cleveland Clinic doctors were the first to implant a transcatheter tricuspid valved stent.