A harvester of skills
Renowned heart surgeon for over 25 years, Prof Freddie Wood has transformed both cardiac and heart and lung transplant surgery, writes JUNE SHANNON
AS A young medical student in Dublin Freddie Wood sat transfixed listening to a lecture by Dr Christiaan Barnard, the South African heart surgeon who, in 1967, carried out the world’s first heart transplant.
Little did he know then that 18 years after Barnard, together with the late Mr Maurice Neligan, Wood was to perform Ireland’s first heart transplant. Two decades later he would carry out Ireland’s first lung transplant.
“It was just the fascination that you could take a human heart, stop it, take it from one individual who was dead, and put it into someone who was dying and restart it . . . the whole process from a science point of view just fascinated me,” Wood says.
A renowned heart surgeon, Wood worked as consultant cardiothoracic surgeon in the Mater hospital and Crumlin children’s hospital in Dublin for more than 25 years. During that time he has transformed both cardiac and heart and lung transplant surgery in Ireland.
He also developed the State’s first artificial heart programme and the first heart valve tissue bank.
Wood has carried out more than 14,000 heart and lung operations throughout his career including approximately 120 heart transplants and 36 lung transplantations.
Although he retired from clinical practice in the Republic in 2010, Wood currently works as consultant cardiac surgeon in paediatric congenital heart disease in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.
As one of the State’s leading experts in congenital heart disease, Wood was also instrumental in progressing the development of open-heart surgery in infants and newborns in Ireland.
Congenital heart disease is the most common physical birth defect and in Ireland it occurs in 8.4-10 per 1,000 live births. Not all babies born with congenital heart defects will require surgery but of those who do, 60-70 per cent will require it in the first year of life.
Wood explains that an adult heart is similar in size to an adult’s clenched fist and a newborn baby’s heart therefore is about the same size as a strawberry or a small plum.
It is on these tiny hearts that Wood carries out some of the most complex surgical procedures.
On September 12th, 1985 Wood and Neligan made history when Dublin’s Mater hospital became the 35th unit in the world to do heart transplantation.
The first patient to receive a donor heart in Ireland died at day 75 post transplant, the second survived for 13 years and the sixth patient who was transplanted in 1986 is still alive today.