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  • Surgical Limits: The Life of Gordon Murray
  • Ihor Ivhen Mayba (bio)
Shelley McKellar . Surgical Limits: The Life of Gordon MurrayUniversity of Toronto Press2003. x, 270. $45.00

The author has compiled an extensive biography of Gordon Murray (1894-1976) and his accomplishments, and she also reviews and explains the multiple advances in surgery (cardiac, vascular, renal, spinal) in which Murray participated.

Murray, a son of a large family whose parents were farmers in Ontario, in the Stratford area, was raised in a Presbyterian atmosphere and was close to the wonders of nature. Murray entered the Medical School at the University of Toronto in 1914, then enlisted in the army in 1915 and went overseas. At that time the Toronto General Hospital was reorganizing the departments of Medicine and Surgery. Dr C.L. Starr was the first full-time professor in the Department of Surgery, and he acted as a mentor to Murray. Murray was able to have a private practice, give clinical and surgical instructions, and participate in surgical research. He was a poor communicator with other surgeons, and believed that they were jealous of his skills and innovative projects. He was basically a general surgeon, but had a wide range of expertise in abdominal surgery, chest surgery, and [End Page 336] orthopedic surgery. Murray was in the forefront of cardiac surgery, treating blue babies with appropriate vascular shunts, and also performing arterial and venous surgery, made possible by utilizing heparin. He was the first to develop a renal dialysis machine, and later performed renal transplant surgery.

Unable to get co-operation and funding from the University of Toronto, he got donations from the Caven Foundation and later from the Gardiner family to support his private research, seeking to cure cancer by utilizing cancer antiserum produced from horses.

He tried to seek a surgical treatment for paraplegics who had spinal-cord injuries. This involved first experimenting on rats, dividing their spinal cord and then approximating it with sutures. In the human paraplegics, he performed decompression laminectomies of the spinal cord and resection of fibrosis around the spinal cord. He gave the impression to the public that he had approximated the injured spinal cord. His technique did not stand up to scientific scrutiny, and this brought him much grief. He was ostracized by the surgical community, and in his later years he completely discontinued surgery.

Murray left a legacy of being an innovative surgeon, especially in the treatment of cardiac, vascular and renal disease. The accompanying photographs of his family and hospital personnel and diagrams give the reader a deeper appreciation of his surgical expertise. This book is recommended, especially to persons interested in Canadian surgical history and in the life of a surgeon who faced much opposition in his surgical research and yet generated much publicity via the news media for his accomplishments. [End Page 337]

Ihor Ivhen Mayba

Ihor Ivhen Mayba, Manitoba Clinic



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pp. 336-337
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