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King of Hearts: The True Story of the Maverick Who Pioneered Open Heart Surgery
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King of Hearts: The True Story of the Maverick Who Pioneered Open Heart Surgery

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  160 ratings  ·  35 reviews
Few of the great stories of medicine are as palpably dramatic as the invention of open-heart surgery, yet, until now, no journalist has ever brought all of the thrilling specifics of this triumph to life.

This is the story of the surgeon many call the father of open-heart surgery, Dr. C. Walton Lillehei, who, along with colleagues at University Hospital in Minneapolis and a
Paperback, 320 pages
Published February 1st 2000 by Broadway Books (first published 2000)
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A good in-depth but not-too-technical look at heart surgery for those interested in medical subjects, even those without medical training. The medical advisor at my job loaned me his copy to read after I went to him several days in a row with questions about heart issues. The surgeons who pioneered all of the medical treatments and technology we use for heart defects today were mavericks in the extremest sense -- and the world is better for the chances they took and the operations that did not s ...more
I'm not usually a fan of nonfiction, but this book was obviously right up my alley. I love reading about old-timey science! It took a lot of time and lives to develop surgical techniques that we take for granted today. I can't say it was exceptionally well-written and I could've used more focus on the science and less on Dr. Lillehei's personal life, but I really liked how the author described the families who opted to try his new techniques on their children. Definitely recommended if you would ...more
The story of Walt Lillehei, who arguably ushered in the modern era of heart surgery is undoubtedly interesting. Unfortunately, the author has no sense of pathos or ability to build tension when describing the often dramatic situations that Mr Lillehei found himself in when in the midst of unknown surgical territory. His style is repetitive and clunky, and he seems to gloss over important details while expounding on tangential points. Mr Walt Lillehei deserves to be acclaimed as a pioneer and her ...more
Fascinating story centered in the 1950-60s when infants born with even a "minor" heart defect were sentenced to an early death. Effective medical minds must be creative and Walt Lillehei is such an example. Who knew a dairy pump and clear beer tubing would lead to the heart-lung bypass machine?

Indeed, many parents felt Lillehei was the only hope their children had of living and were willing to accept the very high probability of death. Many, many children died.

Now minor heart defects are repair
YES TES YES 6 stars

i know who Shumway, Barnard, Cooley and DeBakey are but i've never heard of Dr. Walt Lillehei. how can that be?
i picked this book up shortly after my angioplasty along w/a lot of other heart books and didn't get around to reading it. the past couple years i noticed on the shelf and wondered why i bought a book about heart surgery from a nascar writer.
read King of Hearts in three days. those four doctors i mentioned are some of Lillehei's students. at one point its said that D
Jen Lepp
May 30, 2012 Jen Lepp rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: CHD Folks
I had picked up and put down, picked up and put down this book - I am finding that anything having to do with cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery, or death is a stop and go process to get through. I am glad I did make it through - this book is wonderfully written and tells the story in an incredibly engaging way.

The pioneers and leaders of cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery have become familiar to me thanks to so many books documenting what they have done. This book brings Variety Club Heart H
Daniel Bernardes
An incredible story about a remarkable man who pioneered open heart surgery and made a profound impact on medicine worldwide.
What a fascinating book about the road to the successful open-heart surgeries that we are fortunate to have today! These doctors didn't save every patient, but those who died taught their doctors something. Everyone of those patients, and their families, are heroes for being brave enough to let these doctors try these experimental operations. I had no idea that man's best friend also had so much to do with the research done before they tested their theories on humans. Thank you canines! A great ...more
Daryl Crompton
What a great story. My favorite quote from the man: "when going into the wilderness, do not expect to find a paved road". Which really sums up his venture into the wilderness of open heart surgery, and the eventual success of the heart/lung machines that truly made it possible.
Machines that are taken for granted: The heart lung machine. I was not aware of the human price that was paid for its' eventuality. Not to mention the price in canine and other animals who were used to "construct the road
Matthew Call
An account of the early days of open-heart surgery and the men who pioneered these life-saving techniques, this book is well-researched, engagingly written and thoroughly interesting. I have some background in cardiac medicine and I don't know if those without some similar experience would find this book as engaging, but for me it was hard to put down. This book will be required reading by all of my future students in the cardiac service.
I am probably biased as my unborn daughter has Tetralogy of Fallot, but this book is a wonderful testament to all those who let their children and themselves be part of medical advancement so millions more like my daughter can live as a normal child. the personal side of Lillehei was important to the story as it provided further insight into what made this genius tick. Thank you, 1950's heart race pioneers.
A very enjoyable read! An elegant history of the birth of open heart surgery, intertwined with the biography of C. Walt Lillehei, a truly interesting surgeon. The author alludes to there being the potential for rich literature pieces on topics of cardiomulmonary bypass, pacemakers, and transplants! As a Minnesotan, I love how this was focused around Walt! What an interesting man!
I thought the development of open-heart surgery and the methods that were experimented with were quite interesting. However, I felt that the author spent too much time discussing the personal lives of the characters involved and not enough time on the medical procedures. I got the feeling that he needed "filler" to make the story long enough for a book.
The scientific details regarding the history of open heart surgery are reasonably interesting, but could have been conveyed in book chapter. The biographic details surrounding the doctors/scientists, the "protagonist" Lillehei and various others, made for tedious reading. (Reviewer bias: I work in the field of cardiovascular science.)
engaging biography about C. Walter Lillehei and his pioneering of open-heart surgery. what a character! took a lot of guts to do what he did: a tens of children had to die for him to learn to save thousands. intense. he was brilliant, inventive, unconventional, caring, and willing to take on the powers that be.
Beth Haynes
This is the fabulous story of the mavericks who pioneered open heart surgery. Doctors and patients as heroes. Inspiring.
The tragedy is that if they tried to do the same things today, they would most likely lose their license and probably be jailed.
Luc Hawthorne
I great book to illustrate that medicine is an art and a science. I was torn between the heartbreak of the lives lost and the enlightening genius of the surgeon as he worked toward what is now a fairly routine surgery.
So incredible! It is amazing how new heart surgery is and how hard of a struggle it was to figure out. This book makes me realize how much there still is to learn in all areas of medicine. Great book.
Dana Kay
Tremendous story about the father of open heart surgery. Imagine the thrill of watching your experiments save lives! Game changing innovations. I highly recommend this book.
Marin George
Note: The King of Hearts: The True Story of the Maverick Who Pioneered Open Heart Surgery is a fabulous medical horror because it makes you appreciate medical innovation.

One of those books that you read and can't quite believe anyone REALLY did this! It gave me a great appreciation for modern surgery and the men who risked everything to learn.
Gripping true stories that made me want to go back to med school & be a surgeon, like I wanted back in elementary school!
I think I'll read it again real soon.

Very interesting book of open heart surgery at the University of Minnesota. There is no way they could do those experiments today because of all the ethical concerns.
Reading this again, to try to fully appreciate how much had to happen for my every day work to become so routine! amazing story of the evolution of cardiac surgery!
LOVED this book. I work in cardiac medical device research so it gave me a great history of how my field started.
I'll read it again and again.
True story of Walt Lillehei, the maverick who pioneered open heart surgery. Very exciting. I'll recommend this to everyone.
Jennifer Cooper
Excellent and informative book. My daughter has a congenital heart defect. Great read about the first open heart surgeon.
Brandt Athey
Lillehei's life is a study in the peaks and valleys of brilliance. A must read for anyone with a cardiology bent.
Lisa Adams
Great book! Amazing to see how much medicine has changed in 60 years.
Jun 09, 2010 Jean added it
Fascinating account of the beginning of open heart surgery.
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“Congenital disease can warp the heart with great variety. Valves can be sealed tight, missing parts—or absent altogether. Major vessels can be misplaced, narrowed, or blocked completely. A chamber can be too small or missing, a wall too thick or thin. The heart’s electrical system—its nerves—may go haywire. The muscle can be weak. Holes may occur almost anywhere, in almost any size. Studying heart pathology, one is reminded that the genetic symphony that produces a normal baby is indeed a wondrous and delicate one.” 3 likes
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