They said it couldn't be done, but in 1954, surgeon Clarence Walton Lillehei (1918-1999) proved the disbelievers wrong. With passion and vision, the internationally-renowned medical innovator performed the world's first successful open-heart surgery at the University of Minnesota.
"Vision," said writer Jonathan Swift,"is the art of seeing things invisible."
A man of vision, Lillehei, called the "Father of Open-Heart Surgery," was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In World War II, he commanded a mobile Army Surgical Unit and later won the Bronze Star. A disfiguring bout with lymphoma in 1951 made him an even greater inspiration to his patients.
"What mankind can dream, research and technology can achieve," Lillehei believed. For his pioneering open-heart surgery, the maverick developed the controversial cross-circulation technique.
In 1958, Lillehei helped Medtronic Inc. founder Earl Bakken create the world's first battery-powered pacemaker. Lillehei trained a generation of open-heart surgeons--over 1,000. Among them was South African Christiaan N. Barnard, who performed the world's first successful human heart transplant in 1967.
A mentor, a leader, and a visionary, the brilliant doctor changed medical history with the pioneering spirit and conviction that open-heart surgery would become a common procedure.
About the "surgical giant of the 20th century," Johns Hopkins Medical Institution's Vincent Gott praised: "Millions of patients around the world with implantable pacemakers and artificial valves can thank Dr. Lillehei."
Innovate to success.