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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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