Medical Breakthroughs: Heparin, Penicillin & Heart Surgery

Henry Ford Hospital was built upon innovation and creating new paths – instead of following those already well worn – to transform health care, medical delivery and treatment.

Dr. Conrad R. Lam demonstrating the six finger glove. From the Conrad R. Lam Collection, Henry Ford Health System. ID=04-041. Credit: Detroit Free Press

Dr. Conrad R. Lam demonstrating the six finger glove. From the Conrad R. Lam Collection, Henry Ford Health System. ID=04-041. Credit: Detroit Free Press

Inquisitiveness, reflection and research have been characteristics of the staff that continues in the Henry Ford Health System today.

It started at the very beginning, in 1914, with Henry Ford’s plans for a closed medical group, standardized patient fees, private rooms with adjoining bathrooms, natural lighting operating rooms, and many other structural and operational advancements.

By the 1930s, Henry Ford Hospital had earned its reputation for innovative medical treatment and research, “whether the patient was rich and famous or penniless and unknown.”

Our first Surgeon-in-Chief, Dr. Roy D. McClure, along with his mentee Dr. Conrad R. Lam, was a driving force in early research to advance medicine.

In 1937, Dr. McClure received a prestigious award from the French Academie du Chirugie in France for his work that advanced the understanding of treatment for burn patients.

Of note, Baseball Hall-of-Famer and Detroit Tiger manager and player Gordon (Mickey) Cochrane accompanied Dr. McClure on the European trip. (Cochrane had been treated by Dr. McClure for an illness, and the baseball player’s wife felt the trip would be good for him, particularly after doctors advised that he retire from the game following a serious injury.)

From Dr. McClure’s burn treatment research, Dr. Edward Davidson developed a tannic acid ointment for burn patients at Henry Ford Hospital.

Following Dr. Davidson’s death, Dr. McClure and Dr. Lam continued his work with this novel treatment of burns.

Dr. Lam, a Yale graduate who served as chief resident under Dr. McClure, was appointed to the medical staff in 1938. At the time, he was the youngest member of the Henry Ford Hospital staff.

Dr. Lam quickly established his skills as a gifted surgeon and an avid researcher.

Among his many notable accomplishments: Dr. Lam was the first physician in the United States to administer the anti-clotting agent heparin in patients for the treatment of blood clots.

Dr. Lam and Dr. McClure worked together on heparin research and published findings from their work in the Annals of Surgery in 1941. In it, they concluded: “Heparin is of great value in the treatment of thrombo-embolic manifestation and in arterial surgery.”

The use of purified heparin in patients was noted at the time as one of the decade’s most significant achievements of medical science.

In 1942, Henry Ford Hospital was selected by the National Research Council as a trial site to test penicillin to find a new drug to treat infections. Dr. Lam and Dr. Edward Quinn, who founded the Division of Infectious Diseases at Henry Ford Hospital, studied and administer penicillin to 40 patients.

The resulting research proved the value of a new class of drugs: antibiotics.

Dr. Conrad R. Lam in Surgery, c. 1960. From the Conrad R. Lam Collection, Henry Ford Health System. ID=05-023.

Dr. Conrad R. Lam in Surgery, c. 1960. From the Conrad R. Lam Collection, Henry Ford Health System. ID=05-023.

Alongside Dr. Edward Munnel at Henry Ford Hospital, Dr. Lam redeveloped a surgical technique for correcting mitral valve stenosis in 1940. That led to the creation of the “six-fingered glove,” in which the glove had a knife attached to a “sixth finger” in the middle of the palm (pictured above).

By the early 1950s, Dr. Lam had moved from general surgery into cardiac surgery, a specialty still in its infancy at the time.

He made medical history in 1956 by performing one of the first transplants of the heart’s main artery from one person to another – the first successful open heart surgery in Michigan. The success of the surgery was due to the use of the heart-lung machine, a tool he also helped to pioneer.

In 1975, Dr. Lam retired from active surgery, but stayed on at the hospital as a consultant.

In 1980, he was named as one of the ten pioneers of cardiac surgery.

The Conrad R. Lam Archives, which he helped to establish at Henry Ford Hospital in the 1980s, was named in his honor.

To learn more about our history at Henry Ford, visit the new 100 Year Anniversary website at www.HenryFord100.com. The site contains an incredible collection of photos and videos, and a wealth of information.

And, be sure to stay tuned to Doc in the D as we celebrate our 100th anniversary with more blog posts throughout the year chronicling our history and innovation.

 

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