Thought for the Week with Peter Grace, Cirencester Corps of The Salvation Army

Consulting notes on WW11 recently, I was reminded of another time in Cirencester, when normal life was disrupted and people’s lives at risk.

It must also have been very interesting, with the many military bases in the area and the influx of strangers.

There were many Americans, serving in the 14 military hospitals administered from Stratton House.

These included Dr Dwight Harken working mainly at Stowell Park Hospital.

He was one of those who used his skills to attempt pioneering medical procedures to revolutionise heart surgery.

During the invasion of Northern Europe his courage and skill saved hundreds of lives and the methods he perfected and taught, many thousands since.

At Stowell Park he was the first surgeon to successfully remove bullets and other objects from the heart and vital organs of the injured.

He also pioneered methods of recovery and intensive care that greatly reduced mortality rates.

He later, went on to create the first artificial heart valve.

He had worked with leading British heart specialist before the war and was given the task of coordinating US and British work in this field.

After the war he returned to Harvard School of Medicine, where he taught from 1948 to1970.

On his death, in 1993 he was known as 'The father of heart surgery'.

In 1951, four patients met by chance in a waiting room and talked about their surgeries.

As Dr Harken passed by they told him it was `great to be alive'.

He suggested, instead, that it was 'great to be alive and to help others'.

From this incident and with this motto he founded 'Mended Hearts', an international, non-profit, organization for those who have or have had any heart problems, their families, friends, and associates, bringing help and comfort to thousands.

As we are gradually coming out of our own life threatening crisis, perhaps it is an opportunity to overcome pre-covid negative attitudes in society and gratefully embrace Dr Harken’s motto 'It’s great to be alive and to help others'.

We have already had the example of so many, particularly in the health service.