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Biographical entry Senning, Åke (1915 - 2000)

Hon FRCS 1976; MD Stockholm 1944.

14 September 1915
Raettvik, Sweden
21 July 2000
Cardiac surgeon


Åke Senning was a pioneering heart surgeon. He was born in Raettvik, Sweden, on 14 September 1915. He studied medicine in Uppsala and Stockholm, qualifying in 1944. In 1948, he joined the innovative cardiovascular surgeon Clarence Crafoord at the Sabbatsberg Hospital, Stockholm, with whom he helped to develop one of the first pump oxygenators for cardiopulmonary by-pass. After successful trials in dogs, it was used for the first time in 1953 to extract a left atrial myxoma from a young woman (who survived another 50 years). He was one of the first to use hypothermia and cardioplegia, and the first to use elective fibrillation in heart surgery.

In 1956, he was associate Professor of Experimental Surgery at the university thoracic unit at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm. Two years later, he introduced his Senning repair for transposition of the great vessels, a method which was only (partly) superseded by the Mustard procedure in 1964. In 1958, he placed the first implantable pacemaker in a 43-year-old man with Stokes-Adams syndrome. It failed after six hours and had to be replaced. Forty years (and 26 pacemakers) later the patient was still alive at 83.

In 1961, Senning moved to Zürich, to become Professor of Surgery and Director of Surgical Clinic A at the University Hospital. He remained in Zürich until he retired in 1985. It was there that he and his team performed the first heart transplant in Switzerland in 1969. He was a pioneer of coronary artery by-pass operations and helped Andreas Grüntzig with percutaneous transluminal coronary artery angioplasties. He was the recipient of numerous awards and wrote more than 350 publications.

He died in Zürich after a long illness on 21 July 2000, survived by his wife Ulla, three sons and a daughter.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Tex Heart Inst J 2000 27 234-235; Cardiothoracic Surgery Network 18 September 2000].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England