Contra Costa Times: Original heart-lung machine dedicated for permanent display at John Muir Medical Center, Concord

Dana Guzzetti

Patrick Devaney, 90, Parson's first elective bypass heart surgery patient using Cardiovascular Instrument Corporation's (CINCO) machine, appeared as living proof of its value for almost 25 years.

Devaney, 52 at the time, had been diagnosed with a 90 percent blockage.

"I was not scared of the operation," he recalled. "I figured they knew what they were doing."

Parson and his team would eventually use the machine for more than 1,000 surgeries before its replacement 1998.

Parson started the cardiac surgery program in 1969 at Concord Community Hospital, recruiting cardiac surgeon Dr. Rolf Sommerhaug and then Dr. Steven Wolfe, who was expert in technology.

They began to train as a team, but financing was a problem.

"I couldn't get anyone to give me a loan for it," Parson explained, crediting his wife Joyce and mother-in-law Dorothy Stuenkel for pledging their family property in Berkeley to establish a line of credit to purchase the necessary equipment.

By 1972, the CINCO heart-lung machine was ordered, and the team ready for surgery. Devaney was the third patient to undergo the procedure in 1975.

A surgeon in the audience at the dedication said, "It was just a single bypass."

Parson responded, "That was all we did in those days."

Cardiac surgeons Jatinder Dhillon, Ramesh Veeragandham and cardiologist Patrick Kavanaugh spoke in glowing terms about Parson's dedication and professional generosity, as well as the collegial atmosphere that developed working with "Parcy."

"If you called him in the middle of the night to come and help, he would say, 'I'll be right there, just as soon as I get out of these pajamas," recalled Dhillon.

Parson explained that, in contrast to today, surgeons did not have much support personnel.

"The first six to eight months, we slept at the hospital. We missed family events," he remembered. "We were involved with the families of the patients."

Because the procedure was new and considered high-risk, surgeons personally monitored post-surgery patients and Parson said, "We gave classes to our nurses all the time."

That tradition and others continue today.

Cardiac surgeon Murali Dharan said, "Before we start, we always say what Nils always said, 'Don't make the incision too long. Don't make the valve too big.'"

Parson mentioned his love of chemistry and mathematics as a pure science major at the University of British Columbia in Manitoba, and his internship at the University Medical Center at Ann Arbor, Mich.

Parson was recruited to San Francisco, where he met and married Joyce. But cold weather, his love of flying and Joyce's East Bay connection made him choose that area as a place to settle, instead of accepting offers in Ann Arbor or Tulsa, Okla.

"Concord was a new hospital at the time and I had a few friends in the area," Parson said.

Perfusionist Steve Prato's technical explanation of how CINCO heart-lung machine functioned in comparison to contemporary equipment is reminiscent of comparisons of a biplane to a jet, but it did have some quirky features.

"You'll notice there is a retractable antenna on the pump," Prato said. "There's a built-in AM/FM stereo with an 8-track player."

It featured a built-in fibrillator instead of a defibrillator.

"Dr. Parson's work really formed the foundation of this medical center," said Donna Brackley, senior vice president of patient care services.

The CINCO heart-lung machine will be on permanent public display at the John Muir Health Cardiovascular Institute in Concord.

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