Programs - Cardiovascular (Heart) Surgery

History of Heart Surgery at University of Minnesota

They say experience is the best teacher, and when it comes to heart surgery, we’d have to agree. At the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview, you are at the home of the father of open-heart surgery, C. Walton Lillehei, M.D. A graduate of the University of Minnesota, where he earned five degrees, and a professor at the university in the department of surgery from 1951 to 1967, Lillehei performed the world’s first open-heart surgery in 1952. Throughout his career, he set the standard for innovation, discovery and patient care in cardiac surgery.

Lillehei was responsible for the world’s first use of a small, portable, battery-powered pacemaker; developed and implanted the world’s first prosthetic heart valves; and trained more than 150 cardiac surgeons from 40 nations, including Dr. Christian Barnard, who performed the world’s first heart transplant in South Africa in 1967.

The discipline and excellence of Lillehei live on today in a culture shared by University of Minnesota Physicians Heart. We do the high-risk procedures that others will not.

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