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Legends of Surgery

Legends of Surgery is a podcast that tells the stories of the people and events that make up the history of modern surgery, told in an informal, entertaining and educational manner.
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Legends of Surgery
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Oct 16, 2020

This episode was written by a guest contributor, Harvard student Simar Bajaj. In it, we cover some of the anatomy and function of the esophagus, before tracing the history of the earliest attempts at operating on the esophagus (in ancient Egypt!) up to the modern era. We'll meet a number of surgical legends, and explore some related and fun topics, like answering the question, 'can you burp in space'?

Sep 9, 2020

In this episode, we will cover the story of providing fluids and nutrients intravenously, leading up to Dr. Stanley Dudrick and the development of TPN (total parenteral nutrition), including the first patients to receive this groundbreaking therapy. As usual, we will explore a few related topics, including some of the earliest experiments with radioactive materials, and much more!

Aug 3, 2020

The subject for this episode, written and narrated by Dr. David Sigmon, is the great medieval surgeon Guy de Chauliac. His life and works are covered, including the 'Chirurgia Magna', or 'Great Writings on Surgery', but the main focus is his role in fighting the Black Death in Avignon, France, in 1342, and the lessons he learned about the plague that devastated much of Western civilization.

Jul 30, 2020

This episode was written by a guest contributor, Simar Bajaj, a student of the History of Science at Harvard University. In it, we cover the story of the mitral valve, from its earliest descriptions, to the discovery of its function and pathology, and of course, the evolution of the surgical treatment of both stenosis and regurgitation. In addition to meeting the surgeon innovators, we will of course take some detours, looking at how percussion became a part of the physical exam, reviewing the origins of the term hyperkalemia, cover some surgical rivalries, and lots more!

Jul 7, 2020

This episode was written by a guest contributor, Dr. David Warmflash, and covers the history of the use of induced hypothermia in surgery, from its earliest days in Ancient Egypt, through Napoleon-era France, and to the early days of cardiac surgery! We will also explore a more modern application in the setting of trauma, and of course, take a few detours along the way.

Jun 8, 2020

In this episode, we'll cover the brilliant but difficult character of Guillaume Dupuytren, and of course the disease which bears his name. In addition to his life, we'll take a deep dive into the history of Dupuytren's disease, also known as the Viking's disease, the curse of the MacCrimmons, and the Hand of Benediction, among others. There are lots of side stories, too, including a bit of history of the bagpipes!

And 'Suture Tales' makes a return for the 50th anniversary of the Swan-Ganz catheter!

May 18, 2020

In this episode, host Dr. David Sigmon tells the inspirational true story of Dr. Alexander Thomas Augusta, the first African American surgeon in the Northern Army during the American Civil War, the first African American professor of medicine in the US, and civil rights activist. He overcame deeply entrenched racism to practice medicine and helped to establish medical training for African Americans.

Apr 16, 2020

In this episode, we cover the contributions to neurosurgery by Dr. Walter Dandy, including an in depth look at the ventricular system of the brain. We'll also discuss missing skulls, Roman aqueducts, and the origin of the baseball helmet, and much more!

Feb 26, 2020

In this episode, we will trace the history of the parathyroid gland, from its identification, to the determination of its function, the understanding of hyperparathyroidism, and of course, the surgical removal of abnormal glands! Along the way we'll meet a Swedish medical student, a rhinoceros, a sea captain, and of course, a number of legends of surgery. 

In the suture tales section, we'll cover the assassination of a famous political figure in the US, and the botched attempts to save his life. Lots of fun and interesting stuff in this episode!

Feb 9, 2020

In this 2nd part of a 2-part series on the world-famous cardiac surgeons Drs. DeBakey and Cooley, we cover their life's work, their feud, and eventual reconciliation. In addition, the history of artificial hearts is covered, as well as other topics, including the reason for Jehovah's Witnesses refusing blood transfusions. And in the latest Suture Tales, the Vineberg procedure is brought out of the dustbin of history, given a shake, and covered in detail!

Jan 11, 2020

In this episode, Dr. David Sigmon tells us the tale of the Russian surgeon Dr. Pirogov, detailing his early life, including family tragedies that would shape him, his medical and surgical training, as well as his numerous contributions to surgery. Not only did he advocate for anatomy teaching, leading to the publication of an anatomical atlas 'Anatomia Topographia', he made contributions to vascular surgery and was an early adopter of ether for anesthesia. But most importantly, Pirogov brought his skills and knowledge to the battlefields of 19th century Russia, writing the seminal manual 'Principles of War Surgery' and introducing the concept of triage!

As well, this episode contains the latest 'suture tales', covering the history of curare from the jungles of South America to the modern operating room!

Dec 11, 2019

In this episode, we cover the early lives and career beginnings of the famous cardiovascular surgeons Drs. Michael DeBakey and Denton Cooley, up to their joining Baylor University College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. Of course, we will take a number of side roads on the journey to cover some interesting related history. As well, this episode introduces the new segment, "Suture Tails", where we cover a topic suggested by listeners. So please send in your ideas!

Nov 15, 2019

This is another episode provided by Dr. David Sigmon! He covers the history of a surgeon who had a successful, but not necessarily legendary, surgical career. So why are we covering Dr. Barry? Because of an astounding secret that was carried to the grave! The revelation was so scandalous, the British military kept it secret for decades. To find out more about this mystery, have a listen!

Nov 1, 2019

In this episode, new host and collaborator for the show, Dr. David Sigmon, tells the horrifying tale of the Japanese surgeon Dr. Shiro Ishii and Japan's infamous Unit 731. While his acts were terrible, they were not only tolerated but encouraged at the time. And both the US and USSR failed to properly prosecute him or his unit. It is difficult to hear some of these details, and the podcast may be too graphic for some, so listener beware. But it is important to remember history, even some of the darker sides of the history of surgery. 

Oct 16, 2019

Despite the title, this episode is about far more than just the first prostatectomy performed for cancer treatment. The life of American urologist Dr. Hugh Hampton Young is covered, as well as a little part of the history of prostate surgery. And as a special bonus, there is a mini-podcast in the podcast, covering a famous surgeon of the Wild West, who lived a Forrest Gump-like life! You'll have to listen to the episode to learn more; I hope you enjoy it!

Sep 18, 2019

In this bonus episode, we welcome a new member to the Legends of Surgery team, Dr. David Simon, a general surgery resident at the University of Chicago currently researching surgical education at the University of Pennsylvania. He wrote this episode, which covers the history of the discovery of the adrenal glands, the efforts made to understand its function, and, of course, the pioneers who first operated on these glands. We'll also learn how some of the diseases produced by the adrenals have effected history, and in particular a famous American president, at a very inopportune time in history!

Aug 13, 2019

In this episode, we cover one of the most influential books in the history of surgery, the 'De Humane Corporis Fabrica', and its author, Andreas Vesalius. In doing so, we'll also explore the outsized influence of the ancient Roman physician Galen on anatomical knowledge, and the challenges Vesalius faced in shaking the yoke of tradition through empirical evidence. One of the giants of Renaissance medicine, Vesalius laid the groundwork for the modern field of anatomy, and in so doing, modern surgery as well.

Jul 9, 2019

In this episode, we will explore the life and impact of French surgeon Ambroise Pare, who has been described as "one of the most luminous figures in the dark period of the late sixteenth century in France". A true Renaissance man, so to speak, Pare impacted a wide range of surgical practices. But his most significant impact was felt on the battlefields of Europe, as he modernized the treatment of gunshot wounds and amputations. All that, and more, in this episode!

May 15, 2019

There are few surgical interventions more dramatic than the thoracotomy - a desperate last-ditch effort to save a failing heart by manual compression. The history of the procedure is a fascinating one, dating back to the 19th century. This became the procedure of choice when a heart stopped, typically during surgery, but was eventually replaced by what we now call CPR. The history of the development of CPR is also covered, and of course, we'll take some interesting tangents. 

Mar 23, 2019

This episode is a bit different than previous, in that the first part is a review of the life and work of the famous cardiac surgeon Christiaan Barnard, who performed the world's first human heart transplant. The second part is an interview with cardiac surgeon Dr. David K. C. Cooper, who worked with Dr. Barnard, and wrote the definitive biography on him. We discuss Dr. Barnard, as well as the history of cardiac surgery, and even get into xenotransplantation! It was a pleasure to speak with him, and I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did.

Feb 18, 2019

In this episode, we'll cover the life of English surgeon Frederick Salmon, his clashes with the medical establishment at the time, and his creation of a fistula hospital that eventually became St. Mark's Hospital. Of course, we will get into a bit of explanation around the history of fistula-in-ano treatment, and deviate from the main story to explore some other interesting historical tidbits! 

Jan 14, 2019

In this episode, we will cover the German surgeon August Bier, and his creation of both spinal anesthesia, and the eponymously named Bier block, used commonly today for regional anesthesia. We'll also cover some less well known aspects of his career, and touch on his mentor, Johann von Esmarch, known for the Esmarch bandage (and so much more)! Of course, along the way, we'll meet up with some other players in the history of medicine and surgery. Finally, we will talk about one of Bier's greatest legacies, the Sauen forest in Germany. You'll have to listen to find out more!

Dec 11, 2018

In this episode, we'll cover the life of the 18th century English surgeon, Percivall Pott. This includes some of the numerous disorders named after him, and covers the first description of an association between an occupational exposure and cancer, which would lead to significant social change. And of course, we'll take some detours, including covering the origin story of the London Hospital St. Bartholomew's, and more!

Nov 19, 2018

In this episode, we explore the history of Robert Liston, considered "the fastest knife in the west end" of London, in an era before anesthesia. He was also famous for an operation with a 300% mortality rate, and for performing the first operation under ether in Europe. Liston also had many rivals, including a physician that led the charge during the brief and strange history of mesmerism in medicine. 

Nov 1, 2018

In this episode, we'll cover the strange and sometimes disturbing history of psychosurgery, and in particular, the frontal lobotomy. We'll meet the Nobel Prize winning Egas Moniz as well as the physician and self-promoter Walter Freeman. And as a special bonus, we'll briefly cover the history of zombies!

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