Thinking Outside the Cylinder Block
In its 100 years of business General Motors has been behind many key innovations in the automotive industry. GM was the first to offer turn signals, automatic transmissions and ABS brakes. GM also developed the first rollover crash test and the sophisticated Hybrid III family of crash test dummies. GM contributed to things outside of the industry as well. Do you like the nice cool A/C in your house? Thank General Motors and then subsidiary Frigidaire for that! GM also made history in the medical field.
Dr. Forest Dodrill, surgeon at Wayne State University’s Harper Hospital & President of the Michigan Heart Association, believed there was a way to make open heart surgery a reality. He envisioned a machine that could temporarily circulate blood while the heart was being repaired. In the early ‘50’s Dr. Dodrill approached the scientists and engineers at the General Motors Research Laboratories for help.
With some funding from the American Heart Association, GM Research Laboratories built the Dodrill-GMR Mechanical Heart. Resembling a 12-cylinder engine this stainless steel, glass and rubber device is only slightly bigger than a bread box. It uses air pressure and vacuum pumps to mimic the heart’s main function of running the circulatory system. GM developed and donated this device, at no cost, to the heart surgery team at Wayne State University.
On July 3, 1952 forty-one year old Henry Opitek made medical history and Harper Hospital when he became the first person to use the Dodrill-GMR. During the 80 minute procedure the mechanical heart kept the patient alive for 50minutes. The operation was a success and Opitek lived for 29 more years.
Dr. Dodrill and the team and General Motors Research Laboratories helped to pave the way for the development of other medical devices and are the reason that more than one million open heart surgeries are being performed each year around the world.
In 1954, GM donated the device to the Smithsonian Museum where it remains to this day. The blue prints and an earlier prototype are on display at GM’s Heritage Center in Sterling Heights, Michigan.
I think this really gives new meaning to old Chevrolet slogan “Heartbeat of America”!