UAlberta Research in Your Life

Canada's 1st open heart surgery

In 1956, John Callaghan conducted Canada’s 1st successful open-heart surgery at the
University of Alberta (UAlberta) Hospital.John Callaghan operating roomWhile the surgery performed may be ‘simple’ by today’s standards, at the time it pushed the boundaries of heart surgery and knowledge.

Pioneering advances
In 1946, John Callaghan graduated from University of Toronto, where he and fellow cardiac surgeon Wilfred Bigelow developed new cardiac surgical techniques to slow the heart for heart surgery. In 1951, the two stunned the medical world, by pioneering the use of hypothermia to perform complex surgeries. In 1955, Callaghan joined the University of Alberta and a year later performed the pioneering open-heart surgery.

Another 1st: blue baby malformation repair
In 1957 he followed with another Canadian first, the first successful complete repair of ‘blue baby’ malformation (Tetralogy of Fallot—heart defect limiting blood flow). Callaghan’s cardiac expertise, research and surgical developments has saved countless lives. He retired in 1990 and passed away in 2004.

60 years later + amazing twist of fate
Today, $150,000 heart-lung pumps have replaced the 1956 era pumps, and surgery now takes a few hours not 10. Today, UAlberta hospital is one of Canada’ busiest transplant centres—performing about 10 pediatric and 30 adult open-heart surgeries each week. In 2014, there was an amazing twist of fate—Callahan’s great-granddaughter was born with Tetralogy of Fallot. She underwent a two-hour open heart surgery to fix the defect, nearly 60 years after her great grandfather performed Canada’s first successful Tetralogy repair.