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Dr. Adrian Kantrowitz

Adrian Kantrowitz (Oct. 4, 1918 - Nov. 14, 2008) was an American cardiac surgeon whose team of surgeons performed the world’s first pediatric heart transplant at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn on Dec. 6, 1967.

It was the second time that a human heart had been transplanted into another human being. The first was Dr. Christian Barnard’s seminal attempt in South Africa. Dr. Barnard’s surgery made headlines around the world and ushered in a new era in clinical organ transplantation.

Dr. Kantrowitz also invented a device that was an early version of the implantable pacemaker. So the pacemaker device and organ transplant surgery is a fairly new concept in the world of medicine.

Kantrowitz was born in New York City in 1918. His mother was a costume designer and his father ran a medical clinic in the Bronx. Therefore, young Adrian had an early exposure to medicine.

Adrian graduated from New York University in 1940 with a major in mathematics. He attended the Long Island College of Medicine (now SUNY Downstate Medical Center) and was awarded his medical degree in 1943.

During his internship at the Jewish Hospital of Brooklyn, he developed an interest in neurosurgery, and he had a paper published in 1944. Dr. Kantrowitz proposed a new type of clamp to be used while performing craniotomy during brain surgery.

During World War II he served two years as a battalion surgeon in the United States Army Medical Corps. Kantrowitz was discharged from the Army in 1946 with the rank of major.

Following his military service, he switched to specialize in cardiac surgery. In 1947, he was an Assistant Resident in Surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan.

Always looking to make medical practice more successful, Kantrowitz developed a heart-lung machine used during open heart surgery. He also screened the world’s first movies taken inside a living heart showing the sequential openings and closing of the mitral valve inside a beating heart.

Together with a grant awarded by General Electric, Kantrowitz developed the first implantable artificial pacemaker. The first of these pacemakers was implanted in May 1961. The device could adjust the pacing rate from 64 to 120 beats per minute to allow the patient to deal with physical or emotional stress.

Kantrowitz and his entire team of surgeons, researchers, biomedical engineers, and nurses relocated to Sinai Hospital (now Sinai-Grace Hospital) in Detroit in 1970, where he assumed the position of attending surgeon and Chairman of the Department of Surgery.

Kantrowitz died at age 90 in Ann Arbor, Michigan on Nov. 14, 2008, of heart failure.

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