Journal of the Practice of Cardiovascular Sciences

: 2017  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 115--117

“Vulnerato corde homo vivere non potest” (“Man can not live with a wounded heart”)

V Devagourou 
 Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, AIIMS, New Delhi, India

Correspondence Address:
V Devagourou
AIIMS, New Delhi


The first ever successful cardiac surgery was a repair of a stab wound of the right ventricle by Dr Ludwig Rehn from Frankfurt, Germany on 7th September 1896. It required Dwight Harken to successfully operate on bomb victims of world war II and to save more than 100 soldiers to open the heart to surgical techniques. He operated on 130 soldiers without a single fatality. This article recalls these two moments of cardiac surgery.

How to cite this article:
Devagourou V. “Vulnerato corde homo vivere non potest” (“Man can not live with a wounded heart”).J Pract Cardiovasc Sci 2017;3:115-117

How to cite this URL:
Devagourou V. “Vulnerato corde homo vivere non potest” (“Man can not live with a wounded heart”). J Pract Cardiovasc Sci [serial online] 2017 [cited 2022 Dec 1 ];3:115-117
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Full Text


In 1896, a British surgeon said that “Surgery of the heart has probably reached the limit set by nature to all surgery; no new method and no new discovery can overcome the natural difficulties that attend a wound of the heart.” It was soon after that a German surgeon Ludwig Rehn repaired a stab wound in the heart and started the era of cardiac surgery [Figure 1]. In this article, we discussed the beginning of cardiac surgery and its two of its pioneers.{Figure 1}

 Ludwig Rehn

Ludwig Wilhelm Carl Rehn (1849–1930) was a German surgeon born in 1849 [Figure 2], in the village of Allendorf, and studied medicine at the University of Marburg. He became best known as the first surgeon who successfully repaired an injured heart. On September 7, 1896, Wilhelm Justus, a gardener, had been stabbed in the chest and admitted. On September 9, 1896, when Dr. Rehn saw this patient dying, he decided to operate and managed to successfully close the 1.5 cm wound in the right ventricle [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4].{Figure 2}{Figure 3}{Figure 4}

Rehn's success did not open the floodgates to cardiac surgery as expected. It had to wait for another great surgeon Dwight Harken. Dwight Harken managed to remove bullets and shrapnel from almost 130 soldiers in World War II without a single mortality and opened the heart to surgical repair.

 Dwight Harken

Dwight Harken (1910–1993) was born in 1910 in Iowa, United States, and educated in Harvard University. Besides his major achievements as a cardiac surgeon, he also founded the concept of surgical intensive care units. He started “Mended Hearts,” a foundation to provide emotional support for patients. He also created Heart House which currently houses the American College of Cardiology. He also had many firsts to his credit – the first closed mitral valvuloplasty, developing and implanting the first caged ball valve, also involved in the intraaortic balloon pump and the first demand pacemakers. When he successfully operated on the soldiers in World War II without a single mortality, he was called courageous. He responded by saying: “It is the patients who have the lion's heart. It has been my privilege to give the roar [Figure 5].”{Figure 5}

“Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sands of time.

Footprints, that perhaps another,

Sailing o'er life's solemn main

A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

Seeing, shall take heart again.”


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Conflicts of interest

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