For Their Hearts and History, Our Alums Can’t Be Beat

Fall 2015 As Seen in Our Fall 2015 Issue
For Their Hearts and History, Our Alums Can’t Be Beat

By Sonja Wood, Accel. ’15Allie Sanborn, RN, is an alumnus, circa 1955, who I had the distinct pleasure of meeting at an alumni event last year. She shared some interesting stories of her experiences here at Johns Hopkins. Allie is just one of many dynamic Johns Hopkins nurses who have been involved with “first of” historical events.

Allie’s “first of” was the first successful human-to-human heart transplant ever performed at Johns Hopkins in 1968 by surgeon Vincent Gott. (A South African surgeon had done the world’s first such transplant about a year earlier.)In preparation for the surgery, Allie and her team had sterilized the room and then taped it shut to maintain its condition. Allie was the director of the “recovery room” that doubled as an intensive care unit. She calls it the “pre-ICU” area.

The call came at around midnight that the human-to-human heart transplant would begin. She hurriedly contacted the members of her team, who rushed to the hospital and gathered in the overhead viewing gallery. They watched riveted as the surgical team removed the diseased heart while the donor heart was being removed in an adjacent room. The heart recipient had suffered from heart disease resulting in cardiomegaly, or an enlarged heart. “I remember being amazed at the size of the cavity the diseased heart had left behind,” Allie says now. She recalls thinking that the new heart would “rattle around” in the vast space left behind by the old one.

The heart-lung bypass machine maintained blood flow during the surgical connection of the heart valves. Once the new heart was connected, the team saw the surgeon prepare to use paddles to shock the heart. She remembers wondering what was taking so long for the operating team to administer the electric shock that would start the heartbeat.

Then … the heart suddenly twitched. The surgical team continued to adjust and prepare the paddles. But the heart spontaneously started beating on its own.

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.

@forlinks_tealLearn more about JHSON life at

Illustration by Leonard Peng

Stay Up-To-Date

Get updates on the latest stories, from hot topics, to faculty research, alumni profiles, and more.

Ways to subscribe