5 Important Facts About the Heart-Lung Machine

For most patients needing heart valve surgery, a heart-lung machine is typically used during the operation. As you may know, the heart-lung machine enables the surgeon to stop and cool the heart so the valve can be fixed while the heart is not beating.



A Quick History of the Heart-Lung Machine

In the past, I’ve shared a little bit about heart-lung machines. That said, I thought you might like to learn more about the history and the development of this very interesting device.

  • The first prototype of the heart-lung machine was constructed all the way back in 1885 by an Austrian-German Physiologist by the name of Maximillian von Frey.
  • The first working heart-lung machine was tested during experiments on canines in the 1920s by Soviet scientist, Sergei Brukhonenko.
  • The first successful open heart procedure – on a human – using a heart-lung machine was performed on May 6, 1953 by John Gibbon at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. That operation was a repair of an atrial septal defect.

The heart-lung machine goes by a couple different names including “cardiopulmonary bypass” and the “pump”.


How Does the Heart-Lung Machine Work?

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to observe many operations that use a heart-lung machine.

Needless to say, it’s amazing to see the surgeon and the medical team leverage this device throughout a heart valve operation. So you know, the person responsible for the heart-lung machine is known as the “perfusionist”. He or she is responsible for the management of the patient’s circulatory and respiratory activity during a procedure.

To help you learn more about the heart-lung machine, I thought you might like to see this video that I just found. In the video, Dr. Oz discusses the use of the heart-lung machine. While the procedure featured in the video is a coronary bypass artery graft (CABG), I think the explanations here apply to heart valve procedures as well.



If you’re curious to see how the heart-lung machine works in 3 steps, I thought you might also like to see this step-by-step diagram.



Do All Valve Procedures Use the Heart-Lung Machine?

So you know… Not all heart valve procedures require a heart-lung machine.

Today, there are several transcatheter procedures (TAVR, MitraClip) that are commercially available, or in clinical trials, that do not use a heart-lung machine. Please note, however, these procedures are currently reserved for patients who are at intermediate risk, high risk or inoperable for surgery.

The fact that the heart-lung machine is not used in catheter-based procedures is often referenced as a potential, therapeutic benefit for the patient. As you may know, there are some potential complications that may occur from the use of bypass including post-perfusion syndrome, more commonly referred to as “pumphead”.

That being said, there are potential complications with most procedures. Fyi, my personal experience with the heart-lung machine resulted in no complications.  And, many, many, many, many patients in this community had successful open heart procedures that used the heart-lung machine… They’re doing fine too!

I hope this helped you learn more about the heart-lung machine!

Keep on tickin!

Adam Pick
Written by Adam Pick

Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of HeartValveSurgery.com.

To learn how Adam has helped millions of people with heart valve disease, watch Adam's video, subscribe to his free newsletter, or visit his Facebook, or Twitter pages.

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