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Milestones in paediatric cardiology: the first therapeutic cardiac catheterisations
  1. Magdalena Mazurak,
  2. Jacek Kusa
  1. Department of Pediatric Cardiology, Regional Specialist Hospital, Research and Development Center, Wroclaw, Poland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Magdalena Mazurak, Department of Pediatric Cardiology, Regional Specialist Hospital, Research and Development Center, Wroclaw 51-124, Poland; madzia-mazurak{at}

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In 1711, the Reverend Stephen Hales performed the first cardiac catheterisation in a horse. The results were published in his work: ‘Hydraulic and Hydrostatical Experiments made on the Blood and Blood-Vessels of Animals’. The very term cardiac catheterisation was coined by the French doctor Claude Bernard in 1844 (figure 1). In the 1920s, Dr Werner Forssmann, a German, while still a resident, was fascinated by experiments described in Claude Bernard’s book. At the time, there were two approaches to cardiac catheterisation: pro (diagnostic and therapeutic option, that is, intracardiac drug administration) and contra (fatal consequences to the human heart). Albert Einstein once said that ‘Everyone knows that something cannot be done until someone comes along who doesn’t know that it’s impossible and does it’. Everyone knew that cardiac catheterisation could not be performed, except for Werner Forssmann, who inserted an ureteral catheter into his own heart. He took X-rays while moving the catheter with the help of a nurse, who held a mirror so that he could observe the position of the catheter. After the experiment, he lost his job, because his chief claimed that what he had done was a circus act and not something that a reputable German clinic employee should do! Forssmann’s achievements were not lost, however, and 26 years later he won the Nobel Prize (together with Cournand and Richards ‘for their discoveries concerning heart catheterisation and pathological changes in the circulatory system’).

Figure 1

Claude Bernard (1813–1878) in the Vivisection Laboratory, 1889. Courtesy: BiuSante.

Figure 2

Werner Porstmann in the cath lab; Institut für kardiovaskuläre Diagnostik der Charité in Berlin (Courtesy: Professor Dietrich Pfeiffer).

In 1953, in Mexico City, Victor Rubio-Alvarez performed pulmonary valvuloplasty using a modified ureteral catheter in a boy aged 10 months and that is considered as the beginning of …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Correction notice This paper has been updated since it was published Online First. There was a duplicate affiliation and this has now been removed.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

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