Werner Forssmann (1904-1979)
The first human catheterization
The first vessel catheterization was performed in 1929 by Werner Forssmann (1904-79), a German physician who lived near Berlin, East Germany. He wanted to find an access route for injecting life-saving drugs that was less dangerous than intracardiac puncture. He knew the works of Jean-Baptiste Auguste Chauveau and Etienne Jules Marey, who had performed the first catheterizations on horses. This process was harmless for animals, but was presumed dangerous for humans. Werner Forssmann was convinced that it would be perfectly safe. Therefore, ignoring the ban of his chief, he decided to secretly try this first experimentation.
After cadaver experiments allowed him to see that it would be possible to advance a catheter through a vessel to reach the heart, he performed this first catheterization on himself, using a urethral catheter inserted by an incision into his antecubital vein after local anesthesia. An X-ray photography confirmed that the tip of the catheter was in the right atrium.
This first human catheterization was deemed by the academic community as madness. However, it was the first requirement which would enable the future development of interventional cardiology. To modify the vessel from inside, it was necessary to show that its catheterization was feasible and safe.
In 1956, Werner Forssmann was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, together with André Cournand and Dickinson W. Richards. His two co-laureates had used his brilliant and courageous experiments to develop cardiac catheterization.