TO MEND THE HEART by Lael Wertenbaker
Kirkus Star


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The truth of it is that a borrowed heart, replacing the recipient's, remains the donor's heart."" Thus, Lael Wertenbaker--who has a felicitous way with a phrase--begins her chapter on heart transplants and the work of Christian Barnard, et al. And for the most part, the veteran journalist and author (Death of a Man) celebrates the major events in heart surgery to praiseworthy effect. The work has been shaped by a list of pioneers drawn up (for a 1975 international symposium on cardiac surgery) by the renowned Dwight Harken; and he is clearly the hero and gray eminence here, as well as the take-off point. Harken performed the unthinkable in World War II: ""blind"" or ""closed"" heart surgery in which the surgeon not only applies his scalpel to cut open the beating heart, but reaches in to make repairs by feel while the heart continues to pump. The technique was initiated when the youthful, brilliant Harken was put in charge of the first thoracic hospital unit in England to which the wounded were brought in vast numbers--many with chest injuries. After the war and Harken, the narrative takes a backward look (Galen to Harvey) and then chronicles the post-WW II developments leading to deBakey, Cooley, Lillehai, Barnard, and the advances of each. Wertenbaker reminds us of such now-passÉ methodology as hypothermia (chilling the patient so that the surgeon could briefly cut off the heart's blood supply without endangering the brain cells) or Lillehai's efforts at using a living donor as a lung shunt for the cardiac patient. To each advance, she brings a depth of understanding and sophistication (sometimes exceeding lay readers' operating-room knowledge) that make the book a lively and accurate document of technological prowess, as well as a probe of the surgeon's ego. She ends with a thoughtful discussion of prevention, hospital costs, and pertinent psychological problems.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1980
Publisher: Viking