Congenital heart defects

Future prospects

The surgical and interventional methods of treatment available have developed in leaps and bounds over the past few decades. It is now possible to eliminate atrial septal defects almost exclusively by means of an interventional catheter operation without the need for open-chest heart surgery. The last few years have also seen the development of catheter-based methods for closing ventricular septum defects. These individual milestones are proof of the rapid developments taking place in the field of congenital heart defects.

“Congenital heart defects are of very little interest to the general practitioner. Cases of patients reaching adulthood are extremely rare.”

Sir William Osler (1849 -1919)

“Surgeons who attempt to operate on the heart can no longer hope for the respect of their colleagues.”

Theodor Billroth (1829 - 1894)


Ludwig Rehn (1849-1930) performs the first successful suture on a heart.


Werner Forßmann (1904-1979) performs the first heart catheterisation in a self-experiment in Eberswalde.


Ferdinand Sauerbruch (1875-1951) operates for the first time on a cardiac aneurysm at the Charité hospital in Berlin.


Maude Abbot (1869-1940) classifies and sorts all the different types of congenital heart defect on the basis of the large collection of heart specimens available at the McGill Medical Museum.


Clarence Crafoord (1899-1984) carries out the first end-end anastomosis on an aortic isthmus stenosis.


Heart surgeon Alfred Blalock (1899-1964) is inspired by Helen B. Taussig (1898-1986) to insert a shunt – now known as the Blalock-Taussig shunt – in a cyanotic patient with Fallot’s disease.


In years to follow, German doctors begin to use cardiac catheterisation to diagnose congenital and acquired heart defects. The first operations are performed on congenital heart defects. These are possible without using a heart-lung machine.


John H. Gibbon (1903-1973) – first successful employment of a heart-lung machine


Werner Porstmann (1921-1982) carries out the first interventional occlusion of a persistent ductus arteriosus at the Charité hospital in Berlin.


William Rashkind (1922-1986) – first atrial septostomy with a catheter


Over the following decades, numerous renowned heart surgeons and paediatric cardiologists develop methods of correcting nearly all congenital heart defects.