13 Apr 2015

Biologist and writer Robert Dunn on the history of heart surgery

From Nine To Noon, 10:07 am on 13 April 2015

The man who touched his heart book cover If you look across different species of mammals, everything but humans seem to get about a billion heart beats, and so in some ways that is a measure of what a life is – it is a certain number of heart beats and that’s like a unit of time. If you’re a shrew you live a really quick life, everything passes fleetingly, and if you’re a whale you take slow beats, but it really does literally measure us. As modern humans we get an extra life’s worth of heartbeats – we get 2 billion – which is a pretty special modern situation.

Brain surgery is thousands of years old, but it wasn't till the late 19th century that someone first undertook a heart operation, at least for medical purposes.

Biologist and writer Robert Dunn has written a history of heart surgery which reads like a fast-paced, and occasionally macabre, thriller. It's called The Man Who Touched His Own Heart.

Get the new RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes

Subscribe to Nine To Noon

Podcast (MP3) Oggcast (Vorbis)