Heart of the Operation, perfusion

Perfusion is a vital part of cardiac surgeries, but many people are still unaware of what perfusionists do and what their work entails. The science of perfusion dates back nearly 200 years and continues to develop today. As technological and medical innovation shape today’s OR, highly trained perfusionists are becoming a more valuable and in-demand part of cardiothoracic operations.

What Is Perfusion?

Perfusion is the passage of fluid through organs and tissues via the bloodstream. The heart perfuses the body’s organs with blood, providing vital nutrients and oxygenation. During cardiac surgeries, perfusion must be conducted by a heart-lung machine, which continues the blood-pumping function so surgeons can operate on the heart. Perfusionists operate the heart-lung machine to ensure that perfusion is uninterrupted during procedures.

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What Do Perfusionists Do?

At SpecialtyCare, perfusionists are known as the heart of the operation. That’s because they are literally keeping the patient alive by taking over the function of the heart during surgery. Perfusionists operate the heart-lung machine (or cardiopulmonary bypass machine) during cardiac surgeries. The duties of a perfusionist include: studying the patient’s history, monitoring his or her status during the operation, overseeing the machine’s function, administering any necessary medications during surgery, assisting the surgical team, and managing the use of other extracorporeal circulation equipment. Perfusion as a science continues to advance, and perfusionists must maintain proper training standards to keep up with their field and other cutting-edge shifts in the OR. 

History of Perfusion: Fun Facts

The use of perfusion in medical settings is a relatively new, historically speaking. Perfusion experiments began about two centuries ago, and promising developments have continued into the present day. Here are some interesting facts about the emergence and maturity of perfusion science:

  • In 1858, a scientist named Eduard Brown-Sequard started injecting blood into the arms of criminals that had been decapitated. He found evidence that perfusion caused their arms to become briefly responsive.
  • In the early 1900s, a scientist named Sergei Brukhonenko opened the door to the process of providing perfusion for the whole body after heart removal.
  • In 1935, the famous pilot Charles Lindbergh worked with a Nobel prize-winning scientist, Alexis Carrel, to develop a perfusion pump. 
  • The first reported clinical use of a heart-lung machine on a human being was in 1951 for the surgery of a young girl in Minnesota. The first total cardiopulmonary bypass was performed in 1953 by Dr. John Gibbon.
  • In the 70s, two doctors — Walton Lillehei and Richard DeWall — created a bubble oxygenator that became the standard of practice, even though a membrane oxygenator was developed in 1976. By the 90s, the membrane oxygenator had replaced the bubble oxygenator. 
  • In the 2010s, the development of a miniature heart-lung machine meant that organs could be perfused and transported warm. As recently as 2017, a warm perfusion device was being tested in Europe.

The Industry Leader in Perfusion

SpecialtyCare is the industry leader in perfusion, performing 1 in 8 of all heart surgeries that take place in the country every year. We employ highly trained perfusionists to hospitals nationwide. Across our service lines, we support 13,500 physicians and participate in 400,000 procedures annually. We provide education and hands-on training for our perfusionists through our own university, which includes a fully-equipped simulation operating room. Our focus is on making surgery safer, and that involves partnering with hospitals around the country to provide them with greater resources, trained clinicians, and extensive research and data via our unique SCOPE™ database. To find out more about our perfusion services, get in touch with our team today. We would love to speak with you!