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Legends of Surgery

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This podcast takes an entertaining and informative approach to telling the stories of the people and events that make up the history of modern surgery.

This podcast takes an entertaining and informative approach to telling the stories of the people and events that make up the history of modern surgery.
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This podcast takes an entertaining and informative approach to telling the stories of the people and events that make up the history of modern surgery.




Bonus Episode 4 - A History of the Adrenal Glands

In this bonus episode, we welcome a new member to the Legends of Surgery team, Dr. David Simon, a general surgery resident at the University of Chicago currently researching surgical education at the University of Pennsylvania. He wrote this episode, which covers the history of the discovery of the adrenal glands, the efforts made to understand its function, and, of course, the pioneers who first operated on these glands. We'll also learn how some of the diseases produced by the adrenals...


Episode 81 - Vesalius and the Birth of Modern Anatomy

In this episode, we cover one of the most influential books in the history of surgery, the 'De Humane Corporis Fabrica', and its author, Andreas Vesalius. In doing so, we'll also explore the outsized influence of the ancient Roman physician Galen on anatomical knowledge, and the challenges Vesalius faced in shaking the yoke of tradition through empirical evidence. One of the giants of Renaissance medicine, Vesalius laid the groundwork for the modern field of anatomy, and in so doing, modern...


Episode 80 - Ambroise Pare, Renaissance Surgeon

In this episode, we will explore the life and impact of French surgeon Ambroise Pare, who has been described as "one of the most luminous figures in the dark period of the late sixteenth century in France". A true Renaissance man, so to speak, Pare impacted a wide range of surgical practices. But his most significant impact was felt on the battlefields of Europe, as he modernized the treatment of gunshot wounds and amputations. All that, and more, in this episode!


Episode 79 - Cracking the Chest: The Brief History of Resuscitative Thoracotomy

There are few surgical interventions more dramatic than the thoracotomy - a desperate last-ditch effort to save a failing heart by manual compression. The history of the procedure is a fascinating one, dating back to the 19th century. This became the procedure of choice when a heart stopped, typically during surgery, but was eventually replaced by what we now call CPR. The history of the development of CPR is also covered, and of course, we'll take some interesting tangents.


Episode 78 - Christiaan Barnard: The Surgeon Who Dared and Interview with Dr. David K. C. Cooper

This episode is a bit different than previous, in that the first part is a review of the life and work of the famous cardiac surgeon Christiaan Barnard, who performed the world's first human heart transplant. The second part is an interview with cardiac surgeon Dr. David K. C. Cooper, who worked with Dr. Barnard, and wrote the definitive biography on him. We discuss Dr. Barnard, as well as the history of cardiac surgery, and even get into xenotransplantation! It was a pleasure to speak with...


Episode 77 - Frederick Salmon and the Founding of the St. Mark's Fistula Hospital

In this episode, we'll cover the life of English surgeon Frederick Salmon, his clashes with the medical establishment at the time, and his creation of a fistula hospital that eventually became St. Mark's Hospital. Of course, we will get into a bit of explanation around the history of fistula-in-ano treatment, and deviate from the main story to explore some other interesting historical tidbits!


Episode 76 - the Bier Block

In this episode, we will cover the German surgeon August Bier, and his creation of both spinal anesthesia, and the eponymously named Bier block, used commonly today for regional anesthesia. We'll also cover some less well known aspects of his career, and touch on his mentor, Johann von Esmarch, known for the Esmarch bandage (and so much more)! Of course, along the way, we'll meet up with some other players in the history of medicine and surgery. Finally, we will talk about one of Bier's...


Episode 75 - Percivall Pott and the Chimney Sweep's Cancer

In this episode, we'll cover the life of the 18th century English surgeon, Percivall Pott. This includes some of the numerous disorders named after him, and covers the first description of an association between an occupational exposure and cancer, which would lead to significant social change. And of course, we'll take some detours, including covering the origin story of the London Hospital St. Bartholomew's, and more!


Episode 74 - "Time me, gentlemen": The Legend of Robert Liston

In this episode, we explore the history of Robert Liston, considered "the fastest knife in the west end" of London, in an era before anesthesia. He was also famous for an operation with a 300% mortality rate, and for performing the first operation under ether in Europe. Liston also had many rivals, including a physician that led the charge during the brief and strange history of mesmerism in medicine.


Episode 73 - The History of the Lobotomy

In this episode, we'll cover the strange and sometimes disturbing history of psychosurgery, and in particular, the frontal lobotomy. We'll meet the Nobel Prize winning Egas Moniz as well as the physician and self-promoter Walter Freeman. And as a special bonus, we'll briefly cover the history of zombies!


Episode 72 - The History of Clubfoot

In this episode, we will follow the history of the treatment of clubfoot, from antiquity, through the Renaissance and into modern surgery. Interestingly, the thinking has swung from conservative treatment, through a number of mechanical solutions, through surgical solutions, and finally come back to a non-invasive approach. As usual, we will meet some interesting characters, and in particular, cover some of the luminaries in the development of the specialty of orthopaedics!


Episode 71 - The History of Surgical Technologists

In this episode, we will take a look at some of the unsung heroes of the operating room, going back to some of the earliest surgeries. We'll meet some of the interesting roles that developed, including Handlers, Dressers and Surgical Beadles. From there, we'll trace the development of the modern surgical technologist through the 20th century. And of course, we'll take some detours, including meeting the surgeon Frederick Treves, and his famous patient, the Elephant Man!


Episode 70 - The History of Inguinal Hernias

In this episode, we will follow the history of the repair of inguinal hernias from ancient times, through the age of dissection, to the Renaissance where we will meet the surgeons that influenced our understanding of the anatomy and pathology of hernias. From there, we will cover the first successful tissue repairs, then move on to the era of mesh repairs, and finally, cover the laparoscopic approach. Of course, we'll take a few tangents and learn some interesting facts about hernias!


Episode 69 - Sir Astley Cooper

In this episode, we explore the life of the English surgeon, Sir Astley Cooper, as well as some of his most notable accomplishments. Along the way, we'll cover the infamous story of his nephew, Bransby Cooper, which intersects the beginnings of the medical journal The Lancet, and represents one of the first medico-legal trials on record. Some of our detours will take us to the first carotid artery ligation, done by a naval surgeon while at sea, as well as introducing us to the pioneering...


Episode 68 - The History of Surgery in Japan

In this episode, we will explore the introduction of Western style surgery into feudal Japan, during the period of isolation, that lasted from 1639 to 1853. During this time, only a few of the European powers had access to Japan, and for most of that time, it was Holland alone. The Dutch, through trade by the Dutch East Indies Company, held a monopoly on trade with Japan, and came to greatly influence their practice of surgery. Along the way, we'll meet some of these surgeons, as well as a...


Episode 67 - The History of Lithotomy

Patients are often placed in the 'lithotomy' position. But where did this come from? We'll cover the history of the surgical procedure for bladder stones, known as lithotomy, which dates back from the earliest records of surgery right up to the beginnings of modern surgery. A number of different surgical approaches were used, and we'll cover their history, as well as meet some of the surgeons (and lithotomists) that had an impact on these operations.


Episode 66 - R Adams Cowley: Father of Trauma Medicine

In this episode, we'll cover R Adams Cowley, a surgeon who's single-minded determination reinvented how trauma patients are cared for, and essentially created the field of traumatology. Through his tireless efforts, the state of Maryland created a world-renowned centre for understanding and treating shock in trauma patients. He was an interesting character, to say the least. We will also explore the origins of the concepts of shock as a 'temporary pause in the act of death', and the 'golden...


Episode 65 - Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

In this episode, we'll cover the relatively rare but interesting thoracic outlet syndrome, discussing its anatomy and causes, including cervical ribs. Along the way, we'll follow the history of the discovery of the syndrome as well as meet some famous surgeons involved in its treatment. And of course, go off on a few tangents, including the end of woolly mammoths!


Episode 64 - Dr. Friedrich Trendelenburg

In this episode, we'll cover the life and works of Dr. Friedrich Trendelenburg. Many may know the name from the "Trendelenburg position", but this German surgeon is known for so much more. We'll cover his other contributions, including his attempts to develop a surgical treatment of pulmonary embolism, and much more!


Episode 63 - The Heart Lung Bypass Machine

The heart lung bypass machine replaces the functions of the heart and lungs, allowing surgeons to operate on the heart. Its invention essentially created the specialty of cardiac surgery. Surgeon John Heysham Gibbon Jr. dedicated much of his career to developing this machine. This is that story.