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(September 24, 1904 - August 2, 1992)
Born in Russia
Year of Discovery: 1964
Physician's New Technique Sewed Up Bypass Surgery
Vasilii Kolesov changed the outlook for those with heart disease, but only after harrowing decades of strife. He was born in Russia in 1902 and grew up during one of the country's most challenging eras-the Bolshevik Revolution and the birth of communism under the Soviet Union. He then had to survive as a member of the educated class during Stalin's Great Purge of the 1930s, when millions of Russians were arrested and put into Gulags.
Kolesov did survive and became a surgeon, receiving the rank of Major in the Army. Then World War II began and the Nazis invaded. Performing surgery during the Siege of Leningrad, often under heavy attack, shells raining down, bombs even hitting the hospital during surgery, his personal life and career were in jeopardy. The three million citizens of the city faced extreme cold and starvation. 200,000 died, including several members of his own family. The main focus was on survival, not scientific discovery.
Finally the war was won and eight years later Stalin died. It was then, in 1953, that Kolesov could finally turn his creative mind to scientific discovery. Kolesov learned about the coronary artery experiments Vladimir Demikhov was performing on dogs. Over the next eight years, he made careful modifications and intricate refinements to surgical procedures on coronary arteries. Finally, he believed the procedure could be used on humans. On February 25, 1964, Kolesov performed the very first successful coronary artery bypass. This would change the progression of heart disease for many people.
Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) is a critical procedure for people who have dangerous hardening and narrowing of their coronary arteries. The coronary arteries are the vessels that bring the oxygen-rich blood to the heart. If left untreated, coronary artery disease can lead to a heart attack. The surgery creates new routes around the narrowed and blocked arteries, allowing better blood flow to the heart, delivering much needed oxygen and nutrients.
For the next three years, this life saving procedure was only performed behind Russia's Iron Curtain, at The First Leningrad Medical Institute. It was reported in a Russian Medical Journal in 1965, but was not translated into English until 1967. That same year, on May 9, 1967 the first successful operation in America was performed at the Cleveland Clinic by René Favaloro. At the time, there were some conflicting reports about who was responsible for this groundbreaking medical discovery, but it was determined the American team of surgeons were aware of the previous Russian work, because Donald Effler, of the Cleveland Clinic, had written a comment on Kolesov's original article. Over 2.4 million lives around the world have been saved by this method since.
Kolesov continued to work and write about the treatment of coronary artery disease well into his 80s. In fact, his final paper was published when he was in his late 80s, just a year before his death on August 2, 1992.
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Texas Heart Institute Journal article remembering Kolesov and his work:
The Annals of Thoracic Surgery article remembering Kolesov and his work:
Journal of the American Heart Association article on Kolesov (pg 5, pdf):
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The Science Behind the Discovery
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