This Day in History (19-Feb-1985) – William J. Schroeder becomes the first recipient of an artificial heart to leave hospital

An artificial heart is a device that replaces the heart. Artificial hearts are typically used to bridge the time to heart transplantation, or to permanently replace the heart in case heart transplantation is impossible. Although other similar inventions preceded it going back to the late 1940s, the first artificial heart to be successfully implanted in a human was the Jarvik-7, designed by Robert Jarvik and implemented in 1982. Dr. Kolff implanted the Jarvik 7 artificial heart into Barney Clark, a dentist from Seattle who was suffering from severe congestive heart failure. While Clark lived for 112 days tethered to an external pneumatic compressor, a device weighing some 400 pounds (180 kg), during that time he suffered prolonged periods of confusion and a number of instances of bleeding, and asked several times to be allowed to die.

On November 25, 1984, Schroeder became the second human recipient of the Jarvik 7. The transplant was performed at Humana Heart Institute International in Louisville, Kentucky by Dr. William C. DeVries. After 18 days, he suffered the first of a series of strokes. He died on August 7, 1986 of a lung infection, 620 days after receiving the Jarvik 7. This was the longest that anyone had survived with an artificial heart at that time. His survival showed that people could live long-term on the plastic and metal device. But the strokes and other complications they suffered impaired the quality of their lives and blunted initial enthusiasm for the heart. The seriousness of the complications suffered by artificial-heart recipients prompted suggestions that developers of the device take another look at its basic design.

The headstone marking Schroeder’s grave is made of black granite in the shape of two overlapping hearts. One is laser engraved with an image of the Jarvik 7.

After the first five permanent cases, the Jarvik 7 heart became more widely used as a temporary total artificial heart, bridging patients to transplant. One of the patients was bridged from the Jarvik 7 heart to a human heart that gave him fourteen more years of normal life. Since 1982, more than 350 patients have used the Jarvik 7 heart, and it remains in use today.



This Day in History (12-Jan-1967) – Dr. James Bedford is cryonically preserved, the first person to be suspended for the sake of waking up in the future

A group called the Life Extension Society offered, in 1965, to freeze someone free of charge as a pilot project to test whether the concept was viable. Dr. James Bedford, a psychology professor, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, applied and was eventually chosen. On January 12, 1967 he died of kidney cancer. He was 73 years old. The process of freezing him began a few hours after his death in a Glendale, California nursing home. His body was soaked in a sort of primitive anti-freeze to protect organs from tissue damage as part of the freezing process, and his brain was injected with a chemical called DMSO, which would later prove controversial.

Eventually Dr. Bedford’s remains wound up suspended in a tank of liquid nitrogen, first in Phoenix, Arizona and eventually in a warehouse of cryo-pods in Scottsdale run by the Alcor Life Extension Foundation. Dr. Bedford’s frozen body is still there as of today, and he’s among good company: 117 other “patients” also reside there, in a scene that must literally look like something out of Star Trek. Could Dr. Bedford be revived at some time in the future, when (presumably) medical science has found a cure for cancer? Although it seems straightforward on Star Trek, it’s a very big question.

To date no one has ever been “revived” from cryonic suspension. In Dr. Bedford’s case, the injection of his brain with DMSO arguably destroyed it. Even if life could be somehow pumped back into his thawed body, the notion that he would have all his memories and brain functions intact is total fantasy. Nevertheless, cryonics foundations continue to freeze “patients” today in the hopes that they can, perhaps hundreds of years in the future, be miraculously resurrected.

As long ago as 1773, Benjamin Franklin expressed his regret at being born into the world ‘too near the infancy of science.’ He wished to be preserved and later revived in order to fulfil his ‘very ardent desire to see and observe the state of America a hundred years hence.’ Others, too, dreamed of having their corpses frozen in order that they might later be brought back to life. Yet it was not until the scientific advances of the 1960s that cryopreservation became a reality.


This Day in History (10-Jan-1892) – Wildemar Haffkine, innoculated himself with vaccine against Plague publicly to demonstrate the harmlessness of the product

In 1889 Haffkine, former Vladimir Khavkin, a Russian Jewish, moved to Paris and started working in Pasteur’s world famous laboratory. His initial work on producing a cholera inoculation was successful. Haffkine then sought to test the vaccine under epidemic conditions. When Lord Duffin, ambassador to France and formerly viceroy of India, learned of his project he persuaded Haffkine to go instead to Calcutta, India, where hundreds of thousands died from ongoing epidemics. At first, he was met with deep suspicion and survived an assassination attempt by Islamic extremists; once stones thrown by the crowd broke glass instruments and a panic nearly ensued. Haffkine quickly pulled up his shirt and allowed another to plunge a hypodermic into his side. The curiosity of the villagers was thus aroused and 116 of the 200 peasants assembled volunteered for inoculation. None were to die in the epidemic, although nine of those who refused inoculation did.

At the outbreak of the plague epidemic in Bombay in October 1896, Haffkine was summoned to the city. He improvised a laboratory in the Grant Medical College and set to work on preventive and curative measures. A curative serum was tested in four months, but was not found to be reliable. Emphasis moved to a preventive vaccine using dead bacteria. A form useful enough for human trials was ready by January 1897, and tested on volunteers at the Byculla jail the next month. Recognition followed quickly. Aga Khan provided a building to house Haffkine’s “Plague Research Laboratory” and other prominent citizens of Bombay supported his researches. However, the medical community was not very sympathetic towards him. In 1902 the vaccine apparently caused nineteen cases of tetanus. An inquiry commission indicted Haffkine, who was relieved of the position of the Director of the Plague Laboratory. A review of this commission’s report by the Lister Institute in England overturned this decision, put the blame squarely on the doctor who administered the injections, and exonerated Haffkine. Since the Bombay post was already occupied, Haffkine moved to Calcutta, where he worked until his retirement in 1914. In 1925, when the Plague Laboratory in Bombay was renamed the “Haffkine Institute”, he wrote that “…the work at Bombay absorbed the best years of my life… “.


This Day in History (9-Dec-1942) – Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis, doctor of international fame, died at Kokun village, China

In 1938, the communist General Zhu De requested Jawaharlal Nehru to send Indian physicians to China during the Second Sino-Japanese War to help the soldiers. The President of the Indian National Congress, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose accepted the request and made arrangements to send a team of volunteer doctors. A medical team of five doctors was sent as the part of Indian Medical Mission Team in September 1938. The medical team comprised of M. Atal, M. Cholkar, D. Kotnis (28 years), B.K. Basu and D. Mukerji. All other doctors except Dr. Kotnis, returned back to India.

However, Dr. Kotnis decided to stay back and serve at the military base. He initially started his work in Yan’an and then went to the anti-Japanese base area in North China where he worked in the surgical department of the Eighth Route Army General Hospital as the physician-in-charge. His job as a battlefront doctor was stressful, where there was always an acute shortage of medicines. In one long-drawn out battle against Japanese troops in 1940, Dr. Kotnis performed operations for up to 72 hours, without getting any sleep. He treated more than 800 wounded soldiers during the battle. He was eventually appointed as the Director of the Dr. Bethune International Peace Hospital named after the famous Canadian surgeon Norman Bethune.

In 1940, Dr. Kotnis met Guo Qinglan, a nurse at the Bethune Hospital. The couple got married in December 1941. They had a son, who was named Yinhua – meaning India (Yin) and China (Hua). The hardship of the stressful job as a front-line doctor finally started to take its toll on him and severely affected his health. Only three months after the birth of Yinhua, epilepsy struck Dr.Kotnis. A series of epileptic seizures proved fatal to the young doctor and he passed away on 9 December 1942. To commemorate his death and his unparalleled contribution to humanity, the Chinese government erected a memorial hall and issued government stamps on the loving memory of his name. Dr. Kotnis has been commemorated with the Canadian Dr. Bethune in the Martyrs’ Memorial Park in Shijiazhuang with the entire south side of the memorial dedicated to Dr. Kotnis.



This Day in History (16-Nov-1938) – Hallucinogenic drug LSD is synthesized by Swiss chemist Dr. Albert Hofmann

LSD known as LSD-25 or Lysergic Acid Diathylamide is a psychoactive hallucinogenic drug. It was first synthesized on November 16, 1938 by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in Sandoz Laboratories in Basle, Switzerland. However, it was a few years before Albert Hofmann realized what he had invented. LSD-25 was the twenty-fifth compound developed during Albert Hofmann’s study of amides of Lysergic acid, hence the name. LSD is considered a semi-synthetic chemical, the natural component of LSD-25 is lysergic acid, a type of ergot alkaloid that is naturally made by the ergot fungus, a synthesizing process is necessary to create the drug. LSD was being developed by Sandoz Laboratories as a possible circulatory and respiratory stimulant.

It was not until 1943 that Albert Hofmann discovered the hallucinogenic properties of LSD. LSD has a chemical structure that is very similar to the neurotransmitter called serotonin. However, it is still not clear what produces all the effects of LSD.  Albert Hoffman deliberately dosed himself [after a milder accidental dose] with just 25 mg, an amount he didn’t imagine would produce any effect. Hoffman got on his bicycle and rode home from the Lab and arrived in a state of panic. He felt he was losing his grip on sanity. Albert Hoffman wrote this about his LSD experience, “I was forced to interrupt my work in the laboratory in the middle of the afternoon and proceed home, being affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away..”

The United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances requires its parties to prohibit LSD. Hence, it is illegal in all parties to the convention, which includes the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and most of Europe. Medical and scientific research with LSD in humans is permitted under the 1971 UN Convention.



This Day in History (8-Nov-1895) – Wilhelm Rontgen Accidentally Discovers the X-ray

Wilhelm Roentgen was working on the effects of cathode rays during 1895, when he actually discovered X-rays. His experiments involved the passing of electric current through gases at extremely low pressure. On November 8, 1895 while he was experimenting, he observed that certain rays were emitted during the passing of the current through discharge tube. His experiment that involved working in a totally dark room with a well covered discharge tube resulted in the emission of rays which illuminated a barium platinocyanide covered screen. The screen became fluorescent even though it was placed in the path of the rays, two meters away from discharge tube.

He continued his experiments using photographic plate to capture the image of various objects of random thickness placed in the path of the rays. He generated the very first “roentgenogram” by developing the image of his wife Anna’s hand and analyzed the variable transparency as showed by her bones, flesh and her wedding ring. Terrified, Anna famously cried out, “I have seen my death!”

Based on his subsequent research and experiments, he declared that X-ray beams are produced by the impact of cathode rays on material objects. He named the new ray X-ray, because in mathematics “X” is used to indicated the unknown quantity. His discovery revolutionized the entire medical profession and set foundation for diagnostic radiology. In 1901, Roentgen received the first ever Nobel Prize in Physics.

It would be nearly a decade before scientists discovered X-rays had harmful effects. Clarence Dally, one of Thomas Edison’s assistants, died of skin cancer in 1904 after working with the radiation. Without a full grip on the consequences, standards for protection did not come into force until the 1950s — by that time some stores in America had been helping people to see how well shoes fit by looking through an X-ray machine for decades!


This Day in History (21-Oct-1854) – Florence Nightingale and 38 other nurses are deployed in the Crimean War

From a very young age, Florence Nightingale was active in philanthropy, ministering to the ill and poor people in the village neighboring her family’s estate. Determined to pursue her true calling despite her parents’ objections, in 1844, Nightingale enrolled as a nursing student at the Lutheran Hospital of Pastor Fliedner in Kaiserswerth, Germany. In the early 1850s, Nightingale returned to London, where she took a nursing job in a Middlesex hospital for ailing governesses. Her performance there so impressed her employer that Nightingale was promoted to superintendant within just a year of being hired. The position proved challenging as Nightingale grappled with a cholera outbreak and unsanitary conditions conducive to the rapid spread of the disease. Nightingale made it her mission to improve hygiene practices, significantly lowering the death rate at the hospital in the process.

In October of 1853, the Crimean War broke out. Thousands of British soldiers were sent to the Black Sea, where supplies quickly dwindled. By 1854, no fewer than 18,000 soldiers had been admitted into military hospitals. In late 1854, Nightingale received a letter from Secretary of War Sidney Herbert, asking her to organize a corps of nurses to tend to the sick soldiers in the Crimea. Nightingale rose to her calling. She quickly assembled a team of 34 nurses from a variety of religious orders, and sailed with them to the Crimea just a few days later.

The no-nonsense Nightingale quickly set to work. She procured hundreds of scrub brushes and asked the least infirm patients to scrub the inside of the hospital from floor to ceiling. Nightingale herself spent every waking minute caring for the soldiers. In the evenings she moved through the dark hallways carrying a lamp while making her rounds, ministering to patient after patient. The soldiers, who were both moved and comforted by her endless supply of compassion, took to calling her “the Lady with the Lamp.” She instituted the creation of an “invalid’s kitchen” where appealing food for patients with special dietary requirements was cooked. She established a laundry so that patients would have clean linens. Her work reduced the hospital’s death rate by two-thirds.