Harken, Dwight E.

Harken, Dwight E.

(1910–93) surgeon, medical innovator; born in Osceola, Iowa. He took his B.A. and M.D. at Harvard, and won a fellowship to study medicine in London, where he began devising his innovative surgical approaches to treat heart infections. During World War II he served with the U.S. Army Medical Corps in London; in removing bullets and shrapnel from the hearts of some 130 soldiers without a single fatality, he became the world's first surgeon to have such success in operating on hearts. After the war he taught at Tufts Medical School (1946–48), then went to Harvard Medical School (1948–70); during those years he was also chief of thoracic surgery at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston and Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Mass. He continued to pioneer in the technology and procedures of surgery to treat malfunctioning hearts. In the 1960s he developed and implanted the first device to assist the heart's pumping and the first internal pacemaker; he was among the first to implant artificial valves. In 1951 he opened the world's first intensive care unit at Brigham Hospital, an approach that was soon adopted for patients in all kinds of life-threatening conditions. His original support group for cardiac patients evolved into Mended Hearts, now an international organization, and he was a cofounder of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). He wrote or edited more than 200 articles and several books and was active in various medical organizations.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.