In honor of National Doctors’ Day, FBR is paying tribute to the many doctors who work tirelessly to guide us with our preventative care, treat our everyday ailments and tend to our life-altering conditions. Doctors are heroes, pioneers and inventors. Most doctors influence the individuals they personally treat. Yet certain doctors transform global health with contributions to vast populations over multiple generations. Today, we highlight some of these pioneering physicians of the past whose legacies of improved health and healing live on to this day.
Our favorite famous M.D. is Michael E. DeBakey, Jr., the legendary heart surgeon and inventor. In the late 1950s, while still in medical school, Dr. DeBakey invented the first heart/lung roller pump to assist the beating of damaged hearts. That was the beginning of what would be many ground-breaking techniques through his long and unparalleled career. He created the first surgery to replace or repair blood vessels using Dacron fabric grafts. He spent two years sewing the first grafts and testing them in dogs before successfully conducting the procedure in a person. In 1963 he completed the first successful coronary bypass surgery, using the large vein in the leg to bypass the blocked or damaged areas between the aorta and coronary arteries. Dr. DeBakey went on to perform more than 60,000 surgical operations. Many DeBakey procedures still are used in cardiac surgeries around the world. And he selflessly served as chairperson of the Foundation for Biomedical Research’s Board of Directors for 25 years. Dr. DeBakey’s many contributions to medicine did not go unnoticed. He received, among many other accolades, the Presidential Medal of Science, and in 2008, the Congressional Gold Medal for his unparalleled work in heart sciences.
Belding Scribner, M.D., pioneered kidney dialysis. Scribner made long-term dialysis possible with the invention of the Scribner Shunt. As a U-shaped tube, the Scribner Shunt was placed between the artery and vein of the arm. The shunt worked by routing blood from the artery back to the vein and because it was removable, it could be disconnected when the patient was not receiving dialysis. Importantly, the shunt required no new incisions and did not destroy blood vessels. Millions of people have benefited from Scribner’s contributions to kidney dialysis and he was honored with the prestigious Albert Lasker Award in 2002 for his contributions. Currently, 26 million American adults are living with kidney disease and, of those, 500,000 are on dialysis, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
If you’ve been reading our three-part blog series on diabetes, you know the important role dogs, rodents and primates played in the development of insulin. Well, Nobel laureate Frederick Banting was a Canadian physician behind the first extraction of insulin from the pancreas. Arguably, one of the most important advancements in medical history, Banting’s discovery was possible through his extensive research with dogs. It is estimated that more than 15 million people living with diabetes would have died at an early age without access to insulin.
American surgeon Alfred Blalock developed a revolutionary technique that saved newborn babies with a heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot – the most common cause of ‘blue baby’ syndrome, so named because babies with the condition actually turned blue. Blalock and his colleagues, working primarily with dogs, discovered the defect was the result of an obstruction from the heart to the pulmonary arteries. This finding enabled Blalock and his colleague, Dr. Helen Taussig, to invent the Blalock-Taussig shunt, which Blalock then used to perform the first successful blue baby operation on 15-month old Eileen Saxon in 1944. At the time, this was considered the most effective way to bypass an obstruction without endangering the patient. Blalock was honored with the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award and membership in the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society for this lifesaving surgical procedure.
Last, but certainly not least, we recognize German-American surgeon Richard Lewisohn whose anticoagulation technique made widespread blood transfusions feasible. In 1915, Lewisohn proved that sodium citrate prevented the formation of blood clots without harming a person receiving a blood transfusion. Lewisohn also discovered that with refrigeration and the addition of sodium citrate, blood could be preserved for several days, and, thus, stored and transported. Lewisohn was able to make these discoveries through animal testing and research with dogs. Each year, there are about 15 million blood transfusions in the U.S. alone. Lewisohn can be credited with saving an incalculable number of lives over the last hundred years.
On National Doctors’ Day, we salute medical pioneers like Michael E. DeBakey, Belding Scribner, Frederick Banting, Alfred Blalock and Richard Lewisohn. Thanks to their creativity, commitment and groundbreaking research, they have improved the lives of millions around the world.