Brian Barratt-Boyes


Detail from 1995 stamp depicting Barratt-Boyes
Detail from 1995 stamp depicting Barratt-Boyes

Brian Barratt-Boyes achieved fame in 1958 when he performed New Zealand's first open-heart surgery at Green Lane Hospital, Auckland. He assembled a team that was at the forefront of heart surgery and pioneered new surgical techniques involving the replacement of defective heart valves.

Born in Wellington, Barratt-Boyes went to Johnsonville Primary School before attending Wellington College. He went on to Victoria University before studying medicine at Otago University's Medical School, graduating in 1946. He continued his training as a surgeon in New Zealand and then the United States, spending two years at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. In 1957 he returned to New Zealand, having been recruited to Green Lane Hospital by Sir Douglas Robb, New Zealand's pioneer of heart surgery and Chancellor of Auckland University. Despite many lucrative offers from hospitals and universities around the world, Barratt-Boyes remained at Green Lane until his retirement in 1988.

In 1958 Barratt-Boyes performed New Zealand's first cardiopulmonary bypass using an imported Melrose Heart-Lung machine. This machine had been developed at the Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith, London, in the early 1950s. Barratt-Boyes convinced the Hospital Board to spend the £3,000 needed to purchase the machine. But when it arrived at Green Lane it needed significant alterations and a number of parts were missing. Kiwi ingenuity stepped in. Alfred Melville of the Auckland Industrial Development Laboratory manufactured the necessary parts. In 1961 he further demonstrated an ability to overcome technical problems when he became one of the first surgeons in the world to implant pacemakers before they were commercially available. They were manufactured in the Auckland University workshop. In 1962 he became only the second heart surgeon in the world to replace a heart valve.

He was knighted in 1971 and received numerous other awards and honorary titles. His textbook Cardiac Surgery (1986), co-written with John Kirklin, was for some years the standard text on the subject.

Barratt-Boyes was a hard taskmaster. Some described him as aggressive and autocratic, but he inspired loyalty in his teams and earned the undying gratitude of his patients. He was an outspoken and consistent critic of government for what he saw as a lack of funding in treating New Zealanders with heart disease.

It is perhaps his own battle with heart disease that made him empathise so strongly with his patients. He initially kept his condition a secret, but in 1974 a Green Lane colleague performed a coronary artery bypass on him. He underwent three further heart operations in his lifetime. Barratt-Boyes died on 8 March 2006 from complications following a heart operation performed two weeks before.

Community contributions

15 comments have been posted about Brian Barratt-Boyes

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Ron Carson

Posted: 17 Mar 2023

Sir Brian was the man who saved me. I had a valve and hole problem, this was done at Greenlane 1966/67. Without Sir Brian I would not be celebrating 77th birthday.

Marilyn Hollingsworth

Posted: 10 Nov 2022

My name is marilyn and i was the first recipient if an aortic homograph back in the early 1960's. He was had never even practised this surgery but here i am at 75 having lived a wonderful full life. I had the surgery repeated in 1987 and he came back from a speaking tour overseas to re-do my valve. It was wonderful to meet him again

Kirsten Browne

Posted: 05 Apr 2022

I have heard my grandfather Trevor Browne was “the first recipient in NZ” of Barratt Boyes’ heart valve surgery. I am not alone! Today I met a fellow who told me Cecil Judd was that recipient. I’d love to get hold of a surgery schedule or patient list from that time - seems everyone in here would be keen to be connected as a cohort somehow.


Posted: 28 Mar 2022

I was operated by Brian on 9/7/58 at age 4 for pulmonary valve after being cooled to 29.5°. My procedure was similar to previous posts. I have always led an active life as I am now heading towards 70 and still busy doing renovations and spending time with family having been married for 46 years.


Posted: 12 Jan 2022

Was operated on in 1970 at greenlane at 6 weeks. Suffered from heart failure 2002 but recoverd quickly. Again suffering from heart failure 2021 but professing well again.

Raewyn spear

Posted: 18 Nov 2021

My name is Raewyn Spear was Jones when I had my operation in 1971 by Sir Brian at green lane hospital. I am now 60 and fit as a fiddle , I remember a few other kids who were having I think the same operation a hole it the heart and torn valve I don’t know what happened to them would love to find out,

Lisa Booth

Posted: 09 Nov 2021

My name Lisa Maree Cresswell born 1979. I am from Blenheim New Zealand, my parents names are Cherly and Charles,
I had heart surgery at the age of 12months ....
My parents advised Dr Brian Boyes conducted my surgery.
I have never had heart issues ever since, I would like to thank the doctor who saved my life.

Sandra Rohrlach ( née simons)

Posted: 06 Jul 2020

Hi I also had heart surgery with sir Barrett Boyes 1960, stayed in Green Lane Hospital for about 5 mths -one of the early patients .Gone on to have got married and had two sons. Had more surgery in 1995 the rose operation 25 years later still fit as a fiddle thanks to all

Ruth Fowler

Posted: 03 Feb 2016

Hi, my name is Ruth Parker. in 1958, I was 4 and a half, Brian Barrett-Boyes, operated on me. I had rheumatic fever, and infected heart valve..I was in Green Lane hospital, and my parents and family were farmers, in the South Waikato..My mother told me he made medical history, through my survival. In those days, they would not operate on anyone with high temperature, they put me in a bath, and poured buckets of ice over temp. wouldn't come down, so, Barrett-Boyes phoned my parents, and said ' your child will be dead by the morning, do you want us to operate, or not ?' of course, they said yes...I remember waking up in an oxygen tent, and my Grandmother, standing there, watching me; she walked away, and I felt a sadness. I have photos, of when I was in hospital...I remember, having penicillin injections, everyday...I guess the nurses would remember that, too, because I would scream, everytime I heard the trolley, coming down the corridor...A little boy, named, Rex, from Christchurch, had the same operation, but he didn't survive it... I have many other memories.

Leanne Clark

Posted: 08 Apr 2015

I have been told that my great-grandmother was a patient of Dr Barratt-Boyes and was the first patient ever to have her heart valves replaced with pigs valves.

I am trying to find out more information as my son is a heart child and had surgery at Greenlane in 2003 (age 9 mths).