First open-heart surgery in New Zealand

3 September 1958

Surgeon Brian Barratt-Boyes at work (Fairfax Media NZ/Auckland Star Collection)

Pioneering heart surgeon Brian Barratt-Boyes performed the surgery using a heart-lung bypass machine. The procedure, at Green Lane Hospital in Auckland, was performed on an 11-year-old girl with a hole in her heart.

Barratt-Boyes had persuaded the Auckland Hospital Board to purchase a heart-lung machine developed in Britain during the early 1950s. It arrived with a number of parts missing and in need of significant alteration. Kiwi ingenuity saved the day. Alfred Melville of the Auckland Industrial Development Laboratory manufactured the parts required and made the machine fully functional. It was able to bypass the patient’s heart for 25 minutes.

Barratt-Boyes and his medical team established an international reputation for their work. He pioneered new surgical techniques to replace defective heart valves and found new ways to treat babies born with heart defects. Many of the techniques he developed became common practice worldwide.

In 1971 Barratt-Boyes received a knighthood in recognition of his services to medicine. He himself suffered from heart problems, and he died in 2006 shortly after undergoing heart surgery in the United States.