Brian 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

11 comments have been posted about Brian Barratt-Boyes

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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).

Carol Lahood (nee Yakas)

Posted: 07 Oct 2014

Sir Brian performed a whole in the heart operation on me at the age of 13 in 1963. Today at the age of 65 I remain healthy, extremely active and eternally thankful for his efforts.


Posted: 23 Feb 2013

I had a coarctation of the aorta done in 1957 by Sir Brian and was the youngest person to have this operation at that time. I then had an aortic bypass performed by Sir Brian in 1976. How can I obtain my records as I am now in Australia and having heart problems.


Posted: 07 Sep 2012

Hi I also was a patient of Sir Barratt-Boyes from 1967, with surgery in 1969, performed by him and his team. I am now 45 and have 3 children would like to find information on an article featured in NZ Woman's Weekly in 1969 on this topic as I was one of the children in the article.<br>
hope someone can help<br>

deborah lange nee findlay

Posted: 28 Jul 2012

Hi I was a patient of Sir Barratt-Boyes in 1966. I was the baby that they did a documentary on and i would love to know how to get a copy. It was done in the April of 1966. I am now 46 and have 2 beautiful daughters of my own and have no pic of me really little.
hope you can help

Brian Higgins

Posted: 22 Jan 2012

Hi i had heart surgery in 1957 and have been trying to find out more about it? I do know Sir Douglas Robb was in charge. Regards Brian Higgins