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John H. Gibbon Papers 1930-1981
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Biography

Biographical/Historical Note

John Heysham Gibbon (1903-1973) was born in Philadelphia, PA, and was a fourth generation physician. He received his A.B. from Princeton University in 1923 and his M.D. from Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia in 1927. He also received honorary degrees from the Universities of Princeton, Buffalo and Pennsylvania, and Dickinson College. As a member of the faculty at Jefferson Medical College, he held the positions of Professor of Surgery and Director of the Department of Surgery (1946-1956) and was the Samuel D. Gross Professor and Chairman of the Department of Surgery (1946-1967). He was widely recognized for his pioneering efforts in surgery and the invention of the heart-lung bypass machine. His awards include the Lasker Award (1968), Gairdner Foundation International Award, Distinguished Service Awards from both the International Society of Surgery and the Pennsylvania Medical Society, the American Heart Association's Research Achievement Award, and election into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was named an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and retired as Emeritus Professor of Surgery, Jefferson Medical College Hospital. Dr. Gibbon was also president of several professional societies and organizations including the American Surgical Association, American Association for Thoracic Surgery, Society of Vascular Surgery, Society of Clinical Surgery.

The death of a young patient in 1931 first stirred Dr. Gibbon's imagination about developing an artificial device for bypassing the heart and lungs, allowing for more effective heart surgery techniques. He was dissuaded by all with whom he broached the subject, but he continued his experiments and invention independently. In 1935 he successfully used a prototype heart-lung bypass machine to keep a cat alive for 26 minutes. Gibbon's World War II army service in the China-Burma-India Theater temporarily interrupted his research. He began a new series of experiments with dogs in the 1950s, using IBM-built machines. The new device used a refined method of cascading the blood down a thin sheet of film for oxygenation, rather than the original whirling technique that could potentially damage blood corpuscles. Using the new method, twelve dogs were kept alive for more than an hour during heart operations. The next step involved using the machine on humans, and in 1953 Cecelia Bavolek became the first to successfully undergo open heart bypass surgery, with the machine totally supporting her heart and lung functions for more than half the duration.