Allie Sanborn RN…….and the heart started beating on its own!

It was the first successful human to human heart transplant ever performed at Johns Hopkins.

In 1967 Christiaan Neethling Barnard, a South African cardiac surgeon, performed the world’s first successful human-to-human heart transplant. According to nurse Allie Sandborn, in the late sixties or early seventies a surgeon at Hopkins completed the first successful “human-to-human” transplant.

In preparation for the surgery, Allie and her team had sterilized the patient’s hospital room and it was taped shut to maintain its sterile condition.

Allie was the director of the “recovery room” that doubled as an intensive care unit. According to Allie this was the “pre-ICU” area.

Allie received a call at around midnight that the human-to-human heart transplant her team had been preparing for would begin. She hurriedly contacted the members of her team.

The whole team rushed to the hospital and gathered in the overhead viewing gallery. They watched in awe as the surgical team removed the diseased heart. Meanwhile, the donor heart was being removed in the adjacent room.

The heart recipient had suffered from heart disease resulting in cardiomegaly.

Allie said, “I remember being amazed at the size of the cavity the diseased heart had left behind.” She recalled thinking that the new heart would “rattle around” in the vast space left behind by the old heart.

The team was riveted as they watched the heart-lung bypass machine maintain blood flow during the surgical connection of the heart valves. Once the new heart was connected they watched as the surgeon prepared to use paddles to shock the heart. Allie says she remembers thinking what was taking so long for the operating team to administer the electric shock that would start the heartbeat.

As Allie and her team looked on the heart suddenly twitched. The surgical team continued to adjust and prepare the paddles. Then, …………… the heart spontaneously started beating on its own without ever receiving the electric shock.

Allie Sanborn is an alumnus, circa 1955, whom I had the distinct pleasure of meeting at an alumni event last year. She shared some interesting stories of her experiences here at Hopkins. Allie is just one of many dynamic Hopkins nurses who have been involved with “first of”, historical events this world renowned institution is known for. Today, Hopkins Nurses are still involved with treating patients who come from all over the world seeking treatment due to the acuity and complexity of their conditions.

Allie is a great historian whose recollections captivated me. After meeting Allie and listening to her stories, I plan to attend upcoming alumni events. I encourage you to attend these events too, and mingle with your amazing predecessors who blazed the Hopkins nursing trail.

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