Cardiac catheterization is a procedure where a tiny, flexible, hollow tube is placed into a blood vessel in the groin, arm, or neck leading into the chamber of the heart. This is often done for diagnostic and interventional purposes, but did you know who first performed this procedure?
Dr. Werner Forssmann performed the first heart catheterization on himself in 1929. He took an x-ray as proof of the procedure. By 1956, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology.
Who was Dr. Werner Forssmann?
Werner Theodor Otto Forssmann was born on August 29, 1904 in Berlin. After graduating from Askanisches Gymnasium in 1922, he attended the University of Berlin and chose to study medicine. He passed the state examination in 1929. He went to the University Medical Clinic for his clinical training and worked under Professor Georg Klemperer. He studied human anatomy under Professor Rudolph Fick and went to the August Victoria Home at Eberswald for clinical instruction in surgery. (Source: Nobel Prize Organization)
The Development of Cardiac Catheterization
At Victoria Home, he first developed the technique for the cardiac catheterization procedure. He did this by inserting a cannula into his own antecubital vein. Through this, he passed a 65 cm catheter and then walked to the radiology department and got an x-ray of it. A photograph was also taken of the catheter lying in his right auricle. (Source: Nobel Prize Organization)
The Procedure Proper
Forssmann ignored his department chief’s advice not to go through with the procedure. He merely persuaded the operating-room nurse in charge of the sterile supplies. Gerda Ditzen, the nurse, agreed but only if he did the procedure on her than on himself. Forssmann tricked her by strapping her onto the operating table and pretending to apply local anesthetics. He cut her arm while he was actually doing the same to himself. He applied anesthetics onto his lower arm and inserted the urinary catheter into his antecubital vein.
The head of the department was very annoyed by the stunt Forssmann pulled, but he also recognized his discovery. He allowed Forssmann to carry out another catheterization on a terminally ill woman. After the procedure, the patient’s condition improved dramatically after being given medication through this procedure. (Source: Nobel Prize Organization)
Dr. Werner Forssmann After the Discovery
At the start of the Second World War, Forssmann served as a Sanitary Officer who eventually reached the rank of Surgeon-Major. He became a prisoner of water until 1945, when he was released. At this point, he went into practice with his wife in the Schwarzwald.
He practiced as a urologist at Bad Kreuznach from 1950 and has been Chief of the Surgical Division of the Evangelical Hospital at Düsseldorf since 1958.
In 1956, Forssmann was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology for the cardiac catheterization procedure. He received the award together with André Cournand and Dickison W. Richards. In the same year, he was appointed as the Honorary Professor of Surgery and Urology at the Johannes Gutenberg University. (Source: Nobel Prize Organization)