Posted on 06/04/2014

Susan Koeppen, Guy Knickerbocker, AJ HeightmanFamous CPR and cardiac resuscitation researcher/ engineer Guy Knickerbocker, now 82, made a special appearance at the 2014 ECCU Conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday and was recognized for his part in the development of CPR and other resuscitative measures that have saved countless lives. In 1954, Knickerbocker, a Baltimore native, began working toward his PhD in electrical engineering at Johns Hopkins University in the laboratory of William Kouwenhoven. Knickerbocker was a dedicated engineer who worked long hours in the Johns Hopkins lab and made key observations that led to the development of devices to restart stopped or quivering hearts, and a method to sustain circulation long enough to save lives. His teammate, James Jude, MD, was quoted as say that Knickerbocker’s discovery was “A chance observation to a fertile young mind.”  

In 1958, William Kouwenhoven’s laboratory had received funding from the Edison Electric Institute and National Institute of Health to develop a portable defibrillator that would be useful for electric companies to treat their utility linemen who suffered electrocution.1 Knickerbocker, a dedicated researcher who frequently came into the lab on weekends, made a crucial observation one Saturday when he noticed 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 and the dog was kept alive with manual heart massage while the electrodes were being retrieved from another area of the hospital.

  Dr. James Jude, Dr. William Kuowenhoven, and Dr. Guy KnickerbockerKnickerbocker told Dr. James Jude, a cardiac surgeon about his discovery and the rest is history. Dr. Jude immediately recognized the significance of the Knickerbocker’s observation. It was external cardiac massage. The team of Jude, Kouwenhoven and Knickerbocker duplicated and elaborated on the experiments and found that they could extend the time to successful defibrillation and survival of dog to over an hour with external massage by way of chest compressions. The first documented, successful case of their method being used on a human patient, a 35-year-old woman, was in July 1959.2

In the early 1960s members of the Johns Hopkins team travelled the United States and Puerto Rico presenting their method of external cardiac massage, combined with mouth to mouth resuscitation – what we now know as CPR. In 1962 a training video called "The Pulse of Life” was created by Jude, Knickerbocker and Peter Safar. Kouwenhoven, Jude and Knickerbocker received the Hektoen Gold Medal of the American Medical Association for their work.

Knickerbocker’s dedication to the perfection and promotion of CPR also had a personal connection; his father received CPR in 1963 when he arrested while recovering from a heart attack.

Footnote: 1-2

-A.J. Heightman, JEMS Editor-in-Chief