Book Description

Amazon.com Review The surgeon-as-rock-star mystique seems like it must have come straight out of Hollywood, but the myth had to begin more concretely. A good candidate is Minnesota's Dr. Walt Lillehei, the hard-working, hard-playing father of open-heart surgery, whose life is told in garish color in King of Hearts by journalist G. Wayne Miller. From his early brilliance, recovery from deadly lymphatic cancer, and dramatic repair of seemingly hopeless heart cases to the disintegration of his career at its peak thanks to an army of personal enemies and conviction on tax evasion counts, his story is consistently surprising and engaging. Fast cars, hard drinking, and plenty of women filled his time when he wasn't turning lives around with a few strokes of his scalpel, and the reader will find the surgeon's actions almost unbelievable--rarely endearing, but occasionally saintly. Combining this melodramatic biography with the fascinating story of the struggle for open-heart surgery, considered impossible little more than a generation ago, Miller makes a compelling case that the daring scientist was simply another side of the arrogant, absent-minded playboy. No ordinary biography, King of Hearts is breathless reading--you'll find yourself surfacing every few chapters to remind yourself its nonfiction. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. Read more From Publishers Weekly Open-heart surgery is now almost routine in the United States, but just a few decades ago the idea of repairing cardiac defects by cutting into a living human heart was almost unthinkable. Yet thanks to the efforts of a talented few who refused to believe it couldn't be done, open-heart surgery became a reality in the 1950s. Chief among its pioneers was the intense and flamboyant Minnesota surgeon Dr. C. Walton Lillehei, whose story Miller tells here in thriller style. Miller, a staff writer for the Providence Journal, re-creates the anxieties and excitement of an era poised on the brink of astonishing technological advances but stymied by a disease that killed more than 625,000 Americans annually. Lillehei was convinced that open-heart surgery was the answer--but how to divert blood from the heart and still keep the patient alive? Lillehei's first attempts, in 1954, used a complex and risky donor-patient blood exchange. Several of his first patients died; behind his back, nurses began calling him 'murderer.' By 1955, however, Lillehei and his colleague Richard DeWall perfected a simplified heart-lung machine made with beer hose and plastic tubing ('a high school science fair project was more complex,' Miller observes) that finally allowed Lillehei to achieve his dream of 'bringing advanced open-heart surgery to the masses.' Lillehei's innovations revolutionized cardiac surgery; many believed he would win a Nobel prize. Instead, the surgeon was disgraced when he was found guilty of tax fraud in 1973. Miller's fast-paced and scrupulously researched account reveals both the exhilaration and the tragedy of Lillehei's story. Agent, Kay McCaulay, Pimlico Agency. (Feb.) Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. Read more See all Editorial Reviews

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