This is the story of how it came about that Minnesota played a major role in one of the most important medical developments in the 20th century. I am speaking about open heart surgery with emphasis on the word “open.” That word is usually glossed over as if all heart surgery is now and always was “open.”Actually, the first successful operation inside the human heart, under direct vision, was performed at the University of Minnesota on September 2, 1952. It was performed by F. John Lewis with Richard Varco assisting.Working inside the heart and being able to see directly what you are doing was a major problem: How do you keep the patient alive during the time when you stop the circulation long enough to get the job done? Lewis cooled the child to 28 degrees centigrade (82 degrees Fahrenheit) with refrigeration blankets. He interrupted the circulation for five and a half minutes, long enough to open the right atrium (right upper chamber of the heart), find and sew closed the atrial septal defect (a hole between the two upper collecting chambers that was causing life threatening problems, and then to close the opening he had to make to get inside the heart. The limiting factor with all of this was time. To close a simple atrial septal defect in less than ten minutes was not a problem for skilled hands using hypothermia but it was inadequate to protect the brain and other vital organs when more complex, more time consuming procedures were attempted. The purpose of this narrative is to give credit to the many sung and unsung heroes and heroines of Minnesota who helped make the dream of safe and unhurried open heart surgery come true.Besides the saving of millions of lives throughout the world, the ripple effect of what happened in the experimental laboratories and heart surgery operating rooms in Minneapolis and Rochester during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s has provided Minnesota with one of its leading industries: “Medical Alley,” one of the largest medical device industrial complexes in the world.

About the author:

Paul G. Gannon, MD, cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon, was born in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1928. He was educated at St. Peters Prep in New Jersey, at Holy Cross College in Worchester, Massachusetts for his Bachelors of Arts, and then at Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for his Medical Degree. He completed an internship at the Madigan Army Hospital in Tacoma, Washington while he was enlisted in the United States Air Force. He obtained his General Surgery Residency Degree at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, also receiving a Master’s of Science in Surgery. He completed his PhD at the University of Minnesota, also in surgery.

Dr. Gannon practiced cardiovascular and thoracic surgery for 38 years in Minneapolis. He was a member of numerous surgical societies. He established the Twin City Thoracic and Cardiovascular Association in 1972; also the International Heart Relief for Surgery on Tanzanian Children in 1972. He was a clinical instructor of Surgery at the University of Minnesota from 1968 to 1973, and Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery at the University of Minnesota from 1973 to 1975. He was the Clinical Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of Minnesota from 1975 to 1995. 

Dr. Gannon was board certified by the American Board of Surgery in 1962, and the American Board of Thoracic Cardiovascular Surgery in 1966. He was recertified at the American Board of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery in 1996. Dr. Gannon was a member of a variety of professional organizations. Some of these include the American College of Surgeons, the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, the American Association of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, and the Scandinavian Cardiovascular and Thoracic Society.


​160 Pages - hardcover


Minnesota's Contribution to Open Heart Surgery

Publisher Truth In Narrative

By Paul J. Gannon MD