Remembering Dr. Guy Knickerbocker, A Pioneer of CPR
Knickerbocker made a crucial observation that led to the development of devices for restarting stopped hearts and maintaining circulation long enough.
A Maryland native, he began working towards his PhD in electrical engineering at Johns Hopkins University under Dr. William Kouwenhoven where many graduate students conduct repetitive experiments hoping they might be part of some scientific discovery which could have widespread impacts on human lives.
Knickerbocker's work paid off: it was his key observation that led to development of CPR.
When Dr. Kouwenhoven's laboratory received funding from the Edison Electric Institute and National Institutes of Health to develop a portable defibrillator, they were able apply their knowledge in electrical engineering with what was at that time only just being considered as an industry-wide problem - treating utility linemen who suffered electrocution while working on power lines. Knickerbocker was a truly dedicated researcher - often coming in on weekends to conduct and monitor experiments. One of these weekends, he made a critical observation - that there was a brief, temporary rise in blood pressure that occurred when heavy copper electrodes were applied to the chest wall of a dog whose heart had stopped beating. Knickerbocker had told cardiac surgeon Dr. James Jude about what he had found. Dr. Jude saw the significance of the observation - it was an external cardiac massage.
The Jude, Kouwenhoven and Knickerbocker team duplicated and elaborated on the experiment. As such, they had eventually found that they could extend the time to successful defibrillation and survival of a dog to over an hour with an external cardiac massage, using chest compressions. This method was used successfully for the first time in July 1959, when the first human-patient, a 35-year old woman, was saved.
Dr. Kouwenhoven and Knickerbocker toured the United States presenting their findings and method of external cardiac massage, which was combined with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. This became known as Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (or CPR). Knickerbocker would even take the lead in these presentations, exposing his chest, lying down, and acting as a model so others could demonstrate the method on him. In 1962, Jude, Knickerbocker and Dr. Peter Safar, MD created a training video based on their work called "The Pulse of Life", which received the Hektoen Gold Medal of the American Medical Association.
Knickerbocker studied the Russian language and was quite fluent. In fact, he even travelled to Russia, where he spent three months working on resuscitation research behind the Iron Curtain. The Negovsky Laboratory was located in Moscow, which, at the time, illustrated that scientific discovery and collaboration can flow freely despite geo-political divisions.
Coincidentally, Knickerbocker's father had performed CPR on him when his heart stopped beating in 1963, making his dedication to perfecting and promoting CPR all the more personal.
Source: Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation