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Werner Theodor Otto Forßmann, (August 29, 1904 – June 1, 1979) was a physician from Germany who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for developing a procedure that allowed for the catheterization of the heart.

Werner Forssmann

A bust of Werner Forßmann
Born August 29, 1904(1904-08-29)
Died June 1, 1979 (aged 74)
Nationality Germany
Fields Medicine
Alma mater University of Berlin
Known for Cardiac catheterization



Forßmann was born in Berlin on August 29, 1904. Upon graduating from Askanische Gymnasium, he entered the University of Berlin to study medicine, passing the State Examination in 1929.[1]

He hypothesized that a catheter could be inserted directly into the heart, for such applications as directly delivering drugs, injecting radiopaque dyes, or measuring blood pressure. The fear at the time was that such an intrusion into the heart would be fatal.[2] In order to prove his point, he decided to try the experiment on himself.

In 1929, while working in Eberswalde, he performed the first human cardiac catheterization. He ignored his department chief and tied his assistant to an operating table.[3] Then, he anesthetized his own lower arm and inserted a cannula into his antecubital vein, threading it 65 cm all the way to his heart.[1] Afterwards, he walked some distance to the X-ray department to photograph the catheter which was now lying in his right atrium.

The head clinician at Eberswalde, recognizing Werner's discovery, created an unpaid position for him at the Berliner Charité Hospital, working under Ferdinand Sauerbruch. Though, once Sauerbruch saw his paper, he was thrown out of the hospital. Sauerbruch commented, "You certainly can't begin surgery in that manner".[4] Facing such disciplinary action for self-experimentation, he was forced to quit cardiology and take up urology.[2]

He left to work at City Hospital at Mainz. And then, went to study urology under Karl Heusch at the Rudolf Virchow Hospital in Berlin. Later, he was appointed Chief of the Surgical Clinic at both the City Hospital at Dresden-Friedrichstadt and the Robert Koch Hospital in Berlin.[1]

In 1933, he married Dr. Elsbet Engel, a specialist in urology.

At the start of World War II, he became a medical officer. In the course of his service, he rose to the rank of Sergeant-Major, until he was captured and put into a POW camp. Upon his release, in 1945, he worked as a lumberjack and then as a country doctor in Schwarzwald with his wife. In 1950, he began practicing as urologist in Bad Kreuznach[1][2]

During the time of his imprisonment, his paper was read by André Frédéric Cournand and Dickinson W. Richards. They developed ways of applying his technique to heart disease diagnosis and research. And, in 1956, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Cournand, Richards, and Forssmann.[1]

After winning the Nobel Prize, he was given the position of Honorary Professor of Surgery and Urology at the University of Mainz.[1]

Later, in 1954, he was given the Leibniz Medal of the German Academy of Sciences. And, in 1961, he became an Honorary Professor at the National University of Cordoba.[1]. In 1962, he became a member of the Executive Board of the German Surgical Society. He also became a member of the American College of Chest Physicians, honorary member of the Swedish Society of Cardiology, the German Society of Urology, and the German Child Welfare Association.[1]

He and Elsbet had six children: Klaus Forssmann in 1934, Knut Forssmann in 1936, Jörg Forssmann in 1938, Wolf Forssmann in 1939 (who was first to isolate the atrial natriuretic peptide), Bernd Forssmann in 1940 (who helped develop the first clinical lithotriptor), and Renate Forssmann in 1943.[1][2]

He died in Schopfheim, Germany of heart failure on June 1, 1979.[2]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Werner Forssmann - Biography". Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 2008-12-22.  
  2. ^ a b c d e "Werner Forssmann". NNDB. Retrieved 2009-03-31.  
  3. ^ Sanghavi, Darshak (2007-05-08). "Plumber's Butt? The right and wrong way to think about heart attacks". Slate.  
  4. ^ "The History of Werner Forssmann". UTMB. Retrieved 2008-12-22.  
  • Goerig, Michael; Agarwal Kamayni (February 2008). "[Werner Forssmann: "the typical man before his time!" - self-experiment shows feasibility of cardiac catheterization]". Anästhesiologie, Intensivmedizin, Notfallmedizin, Schmerztherapie : AINS 43 (2): 162–5. doi:10.1055/s-2008-1060550. PMID 18293251.  
  • Hollmann, Wildor (October 2006). "Werner Forssmann, Eberswalde, the 1956 Nobel Prize for medicine". Eur. J. Med. Res. 11 (10): 409–12. PMID 17107872.  
  • Forssmann, Wolf-Georg; Hirsch Jochen R (October 2006). "50 years Nobel Prize: Werner Forssmann and the issue of commemorative stamps". Eur. J. Med. Res. 11 (10): 406–8. PMID 17107871.  
  • Berry, Diana (February 2006). "History of cardiology: Werner Forssmann, MD". Circulation 113 (7): f27–8. PMID 16493783.  
  • "[Werner Forssmann tested the first heart catheter on himself. For this reason he was fired by the chief physician]". MMW Fortschritte der Medizin 146 (33-34): 56. August 2004. PMID 15526639.  
  • Bröer, R (October 2002). "[Legend or reality? - Werner Forssmann and heart catheterization]". Dtsch. Med. Wochenschr. 127 (41): 2151–4. doi:10.1055/s-2002-34642. PMID 12397563.  
  • Raju, T N (May 1999). "The Nobel chronicles. 1956: Werner Forssmann (1904-79); André Frédéric Cournand (1895-1988); and Dickinson Woodruff Richards, Jr (1895-1973)". Lancet 353 (9167): 1891. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)75106-0. PMID 10359453.  
  • Siegel, D (December 1997). "Werner Forssmann and the Nazis". Am. J. Cardiol. 80 (12): 1643–4. doi:10.1016/S0002-9149(97)00944-2. PMID 9068526.  
  • Hart, F D (May 1997). "Werner Forssmann (1904-1979), auto-experimenter/medical martyr. The original cardiac catheterization". Journal of medical biography 5 (2): 120–1. PMID 11619092.  
  • Forssmann-Falck, R (March 1997). "Werner Forssmann: a pioneer of cardiology". Am. J. Cardiol. 79 (5): 651–60. doi:10.1016/S0002-9149(96)00833-8. PMID 9416961.  
  • Heiss, H W (July 1992). "Werner Forssmann: a German problem with the Nobel Prize". Clinical cardiology 15 (7): 547–9. doi:10.1002/clc.4960150715. PMID 1499182.  
  • Meyer, J A (March 1990). "Werner Forssmann and catheterization of the heart, 1929". Ann. Thorac. Surg. 49 (3): 497–9. PMID 2178572.  
  • Schadewaldt, H (December 1979). "[Werner Forssmann 29.8.1904 - 1.6.1979]". Dtsch. Med. Wochenschr. 104 (52): 1856–7. PMID 391522.  
  • Steckelberg, J M; Vlietstra R E, Ludwig J, Mann R J (November 1979). "Werner Forssmann (1904--1979) and his unusual success story". Mayo Clin. Proc. 54 (11): 746–8. PMID 386001.  
  • Asperger, Z (August 1979). "[The life of Doctor Werner Forssmann (1904--1979) (author's transl)]". Lijecnicki vjesnik 101 (8): 509–17. PMID 396430.  
  • "[Münchener Medizinische Wochenschrift/20 March 1931 Contrast representation of the cavities of the living right half of the heart by Werner Forssmann, Eberswalde]". MMW, Münchener medizinische Wochenschrift 120 (14): 489. April 1978. PMID 347275.  
  • Kenéz, J (December 1969). "[Heroic self-experiment of a practicing physician (Werner Forssmann)]". Orvosi hetilap 110 (52): 3069–74. PMID 4904895.  
  • Sulek, K (January 1969). "[Nobel prize for Andre F. Cournand, Werner T. O. Forssmann and Dickinson W. Richards in 1956 for the discovery related to heart catheterization and studies on pathological changes in the cardiovascular system]". Wiad. Lek. 22 (2): 203–4. PMID 4890192.  
  • HEUSCH, K (1957). "[Werner Forssmann, Nobel prize winner for medicine, 1956.]". Zeitschrift für Urologie 50 (2): 57–9. PMID 13434311.  
  • BOLT, W; KNIPPING H W (December 1956). "[Congratulations to Werner Forssmann on winning the 1956 Nobel prize for medicine.]". Med. Klin. (Munich) 51 (49): 2073–6. PMID 13386873.  

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