History and Milestones

Brigham and Women's Hospital 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).

Brigham 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 the Brigham Department of Surgery historical milestones:

2016 – The Brigham performs a life-changing bilateral arm transplant on retired Marine Sergeant John Peck, who became a quad amputee in 2010 after he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan during his second tour of duty.

2016 – The Brigham performs the first-of-its-kind Ewing Amputation, invented by a clinical team led by Matthew Carty, MD, in collaboration with the Center for Extreme Bionics in the MIT Media Lab, which created a robotic prosthetic, and funding from The Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation, on Jim Ewing at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital. The surgery enables Ewing to perform complex actions and feel sensation by allowing his brain to interact with the robotic prosthetic.

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

Surgery - History - First artificial heart implant2012 The Brigham performs the first total artificial heart implant in New England.

Surgery - History - AMIGO2011 The 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.

Surgery - History - Face transplants2011 – Brigham surgeons accomplish three full face transplants in March, April and May.

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

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

2005 – The Brigham establishes the Center of Surgery and Public Health (CSPH), a joint program of Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The center’s connectivity to these rich academic environments provides essential access to interdisciplinary expertise and resources both inside and outside of surgery.

Surgery - History - 500th heart transplant2005 – The Brigham completes its 500th heart transplant, the most for any New England hospital. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), this historic operation adds the Brigham to an exclusive list of hospitals nationwide to reach this mark.

Surgery - History - Nation's first implant2004 – The Brigham performs the nation's first implant of the new Intrinsic dual-chamber implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). The Intrinsic ICD is the world's first ICD with a pacing mode designed to promote natural heart activity and reduce unnecessary pacing in the lower right chamber of the heart.

Surgery - History - Five lung transplants2004 – The Brigham achieves another transplant first in the United States—five lung transplants in 36 hours. Hundreds of Brigham staff—including doctors, nurses and intensive care staff—come in during their weekend time off to assist.

Surgery - History - Quadrupal transplant2000 – In what is believed to be a first in organ transplantation, the Brigham 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 – The Brigham is the first in New England to perform a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) implantation for long-term treatment.

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

1996 – The Brigham becomes one of only 10 hospitals in the country to perform minimally invasive aortic valve surgery.

1995 – The Brigham 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.

Surgery - History - First MRI1994 – The Brigham unveils the world's first intra-operative magnetic resonance imaging (iMRI) 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 – The Brigham performs the first heart-lung transplant in Massachusetts.

1990 – The Brigham performs the first adult lung transplant in Massachusetts.

1984 – The Brigham performs the first heart transplant in New England.

1979 – U.S. trials of cadaver renal transplantation with the first use of the immunosuppressant drug cyclosporine A, now standard therapy for organ transplant patients, begin at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and the University of Colorado.

1977 – Introduction of EEG-guided carotid surgery.

1972 – Introduction of cardiac-output guided aortic surgery.

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

1962 – Joseph Murray, MD, the chief of Plastic Surgery at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital from 1964 to 1986, performs the world’s first successful kidney transplantation from an unrelated cadaver donor. The procedure included the first clinical use of the immunosuppressive drug azathioprine.

1960 – Dwight Harken, MD, inserts 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 Dr. Harken throughout his career.

1960s – Dwight Harken, MD, the chief of Thoracic Surgery at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital from 1948 to 1970, implants the first "demand" pacemaker and pioneers the use of the first pacemakers at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital.

Surgery - History - First successful human organ transplant1954 – The first successful human organ transplant, a kidney transplanted from one identical twin to another, is accomplished by Joseph Murray, MD, at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. In 1990, Dr. Murray receives the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for this work and the subsequent development of immunosuppressive drugs.

1950s – Out of concern for the survival of patients during the critical hours after surgery, Dwight Harken, MD, develops the concept of 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 with life threatening conditions.

Surgery - History - Francis Moore1949-1959 – Dr. Francis D. Moore’s research, carried out between the physiology laboratory and the patient’s bedside, culminates in two classic books: Metabolic Response to Surgery, co-written with Margaret R. Ball (1949), and Metabolic Care of the Surgical Patient (1959). These masterpieces changed the thinking of surgeons.

Surgery - History - Carl Walter, MD

1949 – Carl Walter, MD, invents and perfects a way to collect, store and transfuse blood at the 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 – Elliott Cutler, MD, co-authors the book The Atlas of Surgical Operations with Robert M. Zollinger, MD. 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 at the 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 Harvey Cushing, MD, performs the first surgery using an electrosurgical generator in an operating room at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital.

1923 Elliott Cutler, MD, performs the world's first successful heart valve surgery at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital.

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

Surgery - History - The Peter Bent Brigham Hospital

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 William Henry Baker, MD, founds the Free Hospital for Women dedicated to treating "poor women affected with diseases peculiar to their sex or in need of surgical aid." 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.


View the complete list of Brigham and Women’s Hospital milestones.

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