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Surgical Limits

Surgical Limits: The Life of Gordon Murray

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 272
  • Book Info
    Surgical Limits
    Book Description:

    Shelley McKellar'sSurgical Limitschronicles the life of one of Canada's most prominent and controversial surgeons, Gordon Murray (1894-1976). McKellar examines candidly and critically the career successes and failures of Gordon Murray, discussing Murray's surgical ingenuity and skill, and how he saved numerous lives through his advances in heart and vascular surgery, his experimental cancer treatment, and his development of a kidney dialysis machine. She also chronicles the 1967 spinal cord controversy, in which he claimed to have reversed paralysis, and the resulting theatrics surrounding the apparent recovery from paralysis of Bertrand Proulx. Murray's determination to challenge the limits of surgery and medicine, McKellar argues, produced noteworthy clinical accomplishments yet also ultimately led to the fall of his career through hubris, poor judgement and his perception of persecution from his colleagues.

    McKellar skilfully blends a discussion of Murray's personal and professional life with a cogent analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of his research. At the same time, the biography extends beyond the individual surgeon to larger issues relating to the limits of surgery, the modern medical research endeavour, the surgical character and culture, and the rising power and authority of the surgeon. By presenting the controversial figure of Gordon Murray within the context of the development of Canadian medicine and surgical practices, McKellar's exceptional biography of an extraordinary surgeon makes a major contribution to the history of modern surgery.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8026-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Introduction: A Surgeon’s Life
    (pp. 3-7)

    Gordon Murray stands as one of modern Canada’s most prominent and controversial surgeons. His contributions in medicine range from the clinical application of heparin to organ transplantation and include vascular surgical procedures, heart operations, artificial kidney machines, and even a proposed cure for cancer. Throughout his forty-year career in Toronto, the press as well as grateful patients and friends applauded his bold, broad approach to medicine, his tenacity in tackling complex medical problems, and his courage to intervene with incredibly heroic measures to save lives. This biography charts an exceptional life in medicine, exploring the personality, training, practice, research, and...

  6. 1 Rural Beginnings: The Formation of a Surgeon
    (pp. 8-28)

    Donald Walter Gordon Murray was born on 29 May 1894 in Oxford County, Ontario, approximately a hundred miles southwest of Toronto. In the nineteenth century, Oxford County offered rich farmland – 177 square miles of rolling land well supplied with streams, rivers, and creeks. At the time, southwestern Ontario enjoyed a strong agricultural economy, and most families in the county, including the Murrays, farmed. Compared with elsewhere in the country, farming families in this area earned higher incomes. Affordable land made crop and livestock production profitable.¹ These factors made southwestern Ontario an attractive destination for Canadians and foreigners alike seeking...

  7. 2 Toronto Appointment: Heparin and Vascular Surgery
    (pp. 29-51)

    By 1927 the Toronto General Hospital had emerged as one of Canada’s major academic hospitals. Located in the downtown core, the hospital stretched two city blocks on fourteen acres next to the University of Toronto. It encompassed medical, surgical, and private patients’ buildings as well as nurses’ residences. It contained over a thousand beds and each year cared for tens of thousands of patients from throughout the province. The hospital housed new forms of medical technology, modern laboratories, and had large public wards and luxurious private-patient accommodation. It treated the greatest number of and most complex cases in the country....

  8. 3 Delivering Miracles: Heart Surgery and an Artificial Kidney Machine
    (pp. 52-75)

    Until the twentieth century, the heart was considered off-limits to the surgeon’s scalpel. A few bold nineteenth-century surgeons may have sutured puncture wounds or drained the pericardium (the sac around the heart) to relieve chest pain, and in a few exceptional cases, foreign bodies lodged in the walls of the heart may have been removed. But patients rarely recovered from such injuries. This discouraged most surgeons from operating, and the profession thought this wise. In the 1880s, Theodor Billroth of Vienna, one of the world’s most prestigious surgeons, stated, ‘Any surgeon who would attempt an operation on the heart should...

  9. 4 A Private Laboratory, a Second Artificial Kidney, and New Heart Operations
    (pp. 76-104)

    When Murray did his postgraduate medical training in the mid-1920s, clinical research in general had been a relatively new field. For the clinician, doing research meant conducting a more or less systematic investigation of disease with the intention of improving methods of diagnosis and treatment.¹ Older clinicians trained in the late nineteenth century relied on observation, analysis, and deduction in their study of disease. This older style of clinical research meant the compilation of hundreds of cases and reflection on one’s past experience. By the early twentieth century, a new style of clinical research was emerging, one that incorporated laboratory...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. 5 A Cure for Cancer? Sera, Vaccines, and the Theory of Immunity
    (pp. 105-132)

    By the 1930s, cancer and heart disease had replaced influenza and tuberculosis as the country’s top two fatal diseases. As deaths from cancer increased, it became a major public health concern. Labelled the ‘dread disease,’ cancer brought painful and lengthy infirmity, harsh treatments, and almost certain death.¹ At the time, treatment involved surgery, radium, or x-ray therapy, or a combination of all three, with mixed results, depending on the type and severity of the cancer. A cure had yet to be found, largely because of the lack of understanding of this disease. Cancer is a disorder of cell growth, characterized...

  12. 6 Making Paraplegics Walk Again: The Spinal Cord Controversy
    (pp. 133-160)

    In November 1967 Murray stunned the medical community, the press, and the public with his announcement of a cure for paraplegia. Paraplegics and quadriplegics would now be able to walk again! He had performed an operation to trigger regeneration of the spinal cord and thus restore lost motor and sensory function in people with spinal cord injury. He claimed that his animal experiments and eight clinical cases proved that he was onto something. A remarkable breakthrough for a medical condition that had stymied neurological researchers for years, it promised to be a glorious finale to a long and impressive surgical...

  13. 7 Time for Rest: Career Reflections
    (pp. 161-174)

    After the spinal cord controversy, Murray semi-retired. In 1968 he stopped operating and closed his private practice. Until then, he had continued to perform routine general surgery, aided by interns and assistants who enjoyed watching the legendary surgeon in action. Despite the recent public airing of his difficult relationship with the hospital, Murray did not disappear completely from the scene. He was often seen eating lunch in the cafeteria or visiting with former residents and colleagues, even the professor of surgery, W.R. Drucker. As well, he still went to the Toronto Academy of Medicine to attend meetings or use the...

  14. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  15. Conclusion: Surgical Limits
    (pp. 175-180)

    Gordon Murray’s work both shaped and reflected dramatic developments in the practice of surgery, altering medical practice and social expectations in the treatment of diseases and disorders during the twentieth century. In his lifetime, Murray witnessed and in some cases contributed to advances in corrective and curative surgery, innovative diagnostic and therapeutic technologies, and the development of new drugs to prevent, control, and eliminate pain and disease. It was an unprecedented era of breakthroughs that saved more lives than any earlier period. New diagnostic capabilities in medicine came with such technological innovations as electron microscopes, endoscopes, lasers, ultrasound, and computerized...

  16. Appendix: Dr Gordon Murray’s Medical Writings
    (pp. 181-184)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 185-250)
  18. A Note on Sources
    (pp. 251-254)
  19. Index
    (pp. 255-270)