The invention of open-heart surgery is an epic tale of caution and recklessness, genius and serendipity, selflessness and megalomania.
Until now, it was a story available only to readers of scholarly books and journals. With ''King of Hearts'' (Times Books, $25), G. Wayne Miller has given this great story to the rest of us.
Miller, whose five other books include another about surgery, has researched his subject thoroughly, as reflected in more than 40 pages of source notes and bibliography. And he has written ''King of Hearts'' with clarity, simplicity and grace.
Here are the innocent children with deformed hearts and the parents willing to risk anything to save them.
Here are the doctors at the great medical centers who, in the early 1960s, regard cutting open the human heart as insanity, or even murder.
Here are the maverick surgeons who open hearts anyway and kill patient after patient, with blood-soaked hands.
This is the story of physicians who try to keep their patients alive during heart surgery by pumping their blood through the lungs of dogs. It is story of a medical center constructing a complicated, hideously expensive heart-lung machine that takes seven people to operate. And the story of the animal handler who fashions a better machine out of brewery tubing and a $15 pump used in the milk industry.
But mostly, it is the story of C. Walton Lillehei, the indifferent student, playboy, drinker, tax cheat, cancer patient, and renegade surgeon who was at the ''heart'' of it all.
Some of his nurses called Lillehei ''murderer.'' Some of his colleagues called him mad.
Today, we call him the father of open-heart surgery.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.