Early Heart Surgery

The thickened calcified heart valve is difficult to penetrate.   As a result, only a handful of surgeons dared to operate on a human heart in 1923.  In the Journal of Experimental Medicine, Drs. Claude Beck and Cutler described how the new instrument they used for this procedure worked: “The valvulotome, after having been filled with salt solution to displace the contained air, is introduced through the incision into the cavity of the left ventricle and is then allowed to open. The cutting edges are introduced into the mitral ring, the position being determined accurately by the index finger of the left hand as it feels the end of the instrument through the invaginated wall of the left auricle. The mitral valve leaflets now lie between the cutting edges and, by telescoping the handle, parts of one or more of them are excised and encased in the instrument which is then removed from the heart.”       

Unfortunately only one of the seven patients who underwent this new procedure survived.  It was not until two decades later that surgeons again attempted to operate on a diseased valve.   

Cutler's Valvulotome
Around 1926

Dr. Elliott Cutler developed this instrument to widen mitral valves affected by stenosis, a condition that restricts blood flow. Cutler and Dr. Samuel Levine had performed the first successful operation for the relief of a diseased mitral valve in 1923. They used a slender knife to trim stiffened tissue from the valve. It took three years to develop the Valvulotome.

Gift of Claude Beck, M.D. 

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