Historical Milestones

Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) opened its doors in 1980, welcoming patients to a new, state-of-the-art facility six years after the formal affiliation of three distinguished predecessors — the Boston Hospital for Women (formed in 1832), the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (formed in 1913) and the Robert Breck Brigham Hospital (formed in 1914).

BWH surgeons are international leaders in every surgical specialty and have been and continue to be the innovators who create pioneering breakthroughs that have improved lives around the world.

The following is a listing of BWH Department of Surgery historical milestones:

2016 – Retired Marine Sergeant John Peck, 31, who became a quad amputee in 2010 after he stepped on an Improvised Explosive Device in Afghanistan during his second tour of duty, received a life-changing bilateral arm transplant.

2016 – BWH performs a first-of-its-kind surgical amputation procedure at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital led by Matthew Carty, MD. In collaboration with the MIT Media Lab and with the support of the Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation, Carty and his colleagues expect that the patient’s brain will interact with a specially made robotic prosthetic.

2013 – BWH researchers found that using checklists in the operating room improves performance during a crisis; teams using checklists were 74 percent less likely to miss key life-saving steps than those working from memory alone.

2012 – BWH performs first total artificial heart implant in New England.

2011 – Advanced Multimodality Image Guided Operating (AMIGO) suite opens so that multidisciplinary medical teams can access any of the advanced imaging and surgical technologies available, whether before, during, or after a procedure.

2011 – BWH surgeons accomplish three full face transplants in March, April and May.

2011 – BWH surgeons perform first successful bilateral hand transplant in New England.

2009 – BWH surgeons complete second partial facial transplant in the United States.

2005 – BWH establishes the Center of Surgery and Public Health, a joint program of Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). The Center’s connectivity to these rich academic environments provides essential access to interdisciplinary expertise and resources both inside and outside of surgery.

2005 – BWH marked its 500th heart transplant, the most for any New England hospital. This historic operation adds BWH to an exclusive list of hospitals nationwide to reach this mark, according to the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS).

2004 – BWH performs the nation’s first implant: a new dual-chamber implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD).

2004 – BWH achieves another transplant “first” – five lung transplants in 36 hours. Hundreds of BWH staff – including doctors, nurses and intensive care staff – came in on their weekend time off to assist.

2000 – In what is believed to be a “first” in organ transplantation, BWH performs a quadruple transplant harvesting four organs from a single donor — a kidney, two lungs and a heart – and transplanting them into four patients.

1999 – First in New England to perform a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) implantation for long-term treatment in New England.

1998 – Then known as Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) became one of the first hospitals worldwide to dedicate a postoperative unit to the critical care of surgical patients. In 1998, the Department of Surgery reformulated its multidisciplinary intensive care unit team and started the BWH surgical intensive care service consisting of general surgeons, anesthesiologists, pulmonologists and thoracic surgeons.

1996 – BWH becomes one of only 10 hospitals in the country to perform “minimally invasive” aortic valve surgery.

1995 – BWH performs the nation’s first triple organ transplant, removing three organs from a single donor — two lungs and a heart — and transplanting them into three patients, giving each a new lease on life.

1995 – First minimally invasive adrenalectomy in New England.

1994 – BWH unveils the world’s first intra-operative magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system. This invention, which enables clinicians to take images of the body’s interior during surgery, makes it possible to cure patients with brain tumors that previously were considered inoperable.

1992 – BWH performs the first heart-lung transplant in Massachusetts.

1990 – BWH performs the first adult lung transplant in Massachusetts.

1984 – The first heart transplant in New England.

1979 – The immunosuppressant drug cyclosporine-A, now standard therapy for organ transplant patients, is first used for the treatment of renal transplant patients (Peter Bent Brigham Hospital).

1977 – Introduction of EEG-guided carotid surgery.

1972 – Introduction of cardiac-output guided aortic surgery.

1969 – Early work on Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO), also known as extracorporeal life support (ECLS).

1960’s – Dwight Harken, MD, developed and implanted the first device to assist the heart’s pumping and the first internal pacemaker.

1962 – Joseph Murray, MD, was able to perform the world’s first successful transplantation of an organ from an unrelated donor. The procedure included the first clinical use of the immunosuppressive drug, azathioprine.

1960 – Dwight Harken, MD, inserted the first prosthetic aortic valve directly into a human heart at the site of the biological valve; the prosthesis was the first of several designed by Harken throughout his career.

1954 – The first successful human organ transplant, a kidney transplanted from one identical twin to another, is accomplished. In 1990, Joseph Murray, MD, receives the Nobel Prize for this work and the subsequent development of immunosuppressive drugs (Peter Bent Brigham Hospital).

1950’s – Out of concern for the survival of patients during the critical hours after surgery, Dwight Harken, MD developed the concept for an intensive care unit at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. His approach was an important innovation in medicine, extending beyond cardiac cases to the care of all patients in life-threatening conditions.

1949-1959 – Francis D. Moore’s research, carried out between the physiology laboratory and the patient’s bedside, culminated in two classic books: Metabolic Response to Surgery with M. Ball (1949) and Metabolic Care of the Surgical Patient (1959). These masterpieces changed the thinking of surgeons.

1949 – Carl Walter, MD, invents and perfects a way to collect, store and transfuse blood (Peter Bent Brigham Hospital). He devised new materials and equipment for collecting, storing and transfusing blood that replaced fragile glass bottles with plastic bags, thus preventing losses from breakage.

1939 – Elliot Cutler, MD, was the co-author of the 1939 book The Atlas of Surgery with Robert M. Zollinger. The book remained a standard surgery textbook throughout the 20th century.

1931 – Harvey Cushing, MD, the father of modern neurosurgery, performs his 2,000th brain surgery while serving as chief of surgery (Peter Bent Brigham Hospital).

1929 – The first polio victim is saved using the newly developed Drinker Respirator (iron lung) at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in collaboration with Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the Harvard School of Public Health.

1926 – The first use of electrosurgery in an operating room, performed by Harvey Cushing, MD, at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital.

1923 – The first successful heart valve surgery in the world is performed at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital by Elliott Cutler, MD.

1914 – The Robert Breck Brigham Hospital, founded with a bequest from Peter Bent Brigham’s nephew, opens to serve patients with arthritis and other debilitating joint diseases.

1913 – The Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, established “for the care of sick persons in indigent circumstances” with a bequest from restaurateur and real estate baron Peter Bent Brigham, opens and the first patients are admitted for care.

1875 – The Free Hospital for Women is founded “for poor women affected with diseases peculiar to their sex or in need of surgical aid,” according to its mission statement. A different charitable group sponsors each of five beds.

1832 – Following fundraising appeals to individuals and various charitable organizations, the Boston Lying-In Hospital, one of the nation’s first maternity hospitals, opens its doors to women unable to afford in-home medical care.