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Heart-lung machine, London, England, c. 1955-1960

The heart-lung machine performs the functions of the heart and lungs during surgery. A pump takes over the action of the heart, supplying the body with blood. The heart can then be stopped, making it easier to operate on. The patient’s blood flows over the rotating discs where oxygen is blown across it, effectively taking over the action of the lungs. This machine with a pump oxygenator was conceived by Denis Melrose (1921-2007) at the Postgraduate Medical School in Hammersmith, London, in the early 1950s. Melrose also developed a way to stop the heart beating during heart surgery using potassium citrate. The technique is still used today and is called cold cardioplegia. This machine was the first to be used in open heart surgery operations at the Postgraduate Medical School.

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Glossary: open heart surgery

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Glossary: heart-lung machine

A machine used to take over the functions of the heart and lungs during surgery. It allows a surgeon to carefully stop the heart while the vital organs continue to receive blood and oxygen.