March 31, 1915 - Aug. 27, 2015
Jim Helmsworth, MD, the man who helped create the world’s first oxygenated heart-lung machine and performed the first open-heart surgery in Cincinnati, died Aug. 27, 2015. He was 100.
Helmsworth was born on March 31, 1915, in Jamestown, N.D. His curiosity and dedication to try to correct congenital heart disease (CHD) began after completing his medical degree at Pennsylvania College of Medicine in 1939 and surgical residency at Cincinnati General Hospital in 1949. At the time, the best results for the simpler defects were only 50/50.
Because of his interest, he was joined by Sam Kaplan, MD, (soon to be director of the heart clinic at Cincinnati Children’s) and biophysicist Leland Clark, PhD, to create a heart-lung machine suitable for these types of operations. Through the trio’s efforts, the world’s first oxygenated heart-lung machine came into being. This permitted oxygenated blood to be perfused throughout the body, thus allowing Helmsworth, just 37 at the time, to perform one of the first open-heart surgeries recorded by the American Medical Association. It was 1952.
Helmsworth perfected the surgery for tetralogy of Fallot, as well as many other lesions. His impact was felt worldwide, including by Julie Fugazzi, RN, who became a cardiac nurse at Cincinnati Children’s as a result of her life-saving procedure.
At his 100-year birthday celebration this year, Helmsworth modestly commented, "I came along at the right time. Leland and Sam had the idea for the heart-lung machine, and I just happened to be there.”
Helmsworth served as the primary heart surgeon at Cincinnati Children’s for 35 years before retiring in 1981. He continued to use his hands in retirement, not to renew life, but to carve furniture and sculpt.
His legacy to advance medical practice will continue to live on and inspire others to dream what could be possible.
If you would like to make a memorial gift to Cincinnati Children's to honor Dr. Helmsworth, you can do so by
. Please be sure to indicate that your gift is in his memory in the Honor/Memorial section of the online donation form.