The Exhibition

We know our sporting heroes inspire young New Zealanders. And we know that international success encourages our youth to achieve.

But how many of us know about New Zealand’s history of world-class achievements by dedicated young heart surgeons and their teams?

The first simple heart operations in NZ were done in 1942. But it was Sir Douglas Robb’s 1948 series of successful operations on “blue babies” which first captured the imagination of the public.

By the 1950s a revolution was about to break on the world’s operating tables. New practices and new technology launched an exciting era for cardiac surgery internationally.

The Auckland Medical Museum will display and tell the story of New Zealand’s first heart-lung bypass machine that changed everything. In 1962 Brian Barratt-Boyes, using this machine, applied a masterful technique for replacing a heart valve with a human donor and set the international standard for aortic valve surgery. The machine was first used to close a hole in the heart in 1958.

We want to celebrate those brave medical pioneers who rode a new wave of medicine to learn and teach how to repair the damaged hearts of newborn babies, children and adults.

And we want everyone to know more about the heart, what can go wrong, what can be done to fix the problem, and what we can do to prevent problems in the first place.

The progress in cardiology and all the specialisations involved in heart surgery over the last 60 years is astonishing.

We believe New Zealand’s pioneering story must be told.

Take a look inside the Brave Hearts exhibition

Patient stories

“My greatest difficulty was finding a surgeon willing to operate on a person my age. I was 90 at the time. I had already received an animal mitral valve replacement 14 years earlier but this valve had come to the end of its life; I hadn’t! It took six months to find a willing surgeon. I am tremendously grateful to Dr Ramanathan and the team of consultants who collectively enabled this replacement to be done four months ago.
I’m now 91 years old and life is worth living again.”

Lillian Chrystall

“I was Sir Brian Barratt-Boyes’s “golden girl”, the first to go on the heart lung machine in 1958. I was very sick before that and was one of six given the chance to have the first open-heart surgery. My parents had faith in the doctors and agreed to the pioneering operation. I remember Dr Barratt-Boyes going to sleep in the chair beside me in those first few days. He has been the person around whom my life has pivoted. I have had quite a life since – three open-heart surgeries, three pacemakers, and two strokes. I am still here and very fortunate. I have three grandchildren and I walk my dog every day.”

Helen Harris (née Arnold)

“As a child, you do not believe that you can die. I was told there is always a chance that things may not go well. It was a big deal. It can be very lonely. Your support is your family. But after visiting hours, you are by yourself. Your mind plays tricks on you. I found myself to be lost at times. Very early in my illness, I realised it was all up to me to make it. I had to stay positive. I believed the surgeons were going to do their best and I just had to do my best as a patient. I had to will myself to handle the trauma and even trick myself into believing I was going to live forever. That’s how I got through it. All these operations, I was always surprised when I made it!”

Ta’afuli Andrew Fiu had a bad cold that was misdiagnosed and rheumaticfever damaged his heart valves when he was a teenager. Since then, he has survived five open-heart surgeries and two cardiac arrests in his “hospital career.”

“In my medical career, I have been involved in a lot of cardiac arrests but I never expected to be a patient. I collapsed after a gym workout and fortunately, an off-duty policeman there started cardiac massage and other people got a defibrillator. I was successfully resuscitated and after a three-day spell in intensive care on a ventilator, I was able to leave. I didn’t have a heart attack – I had a cardiac arrest due to a viral infection that damaged my heart. If the defibrillator hadn’t been there, I would probably have died. I think defibrillators should be in every school, sports game and workplace. And people should learn how to do CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation.”

John Mayhew was former doctor to the All Blacks and current doctor for the Warriors.

Exhibition & events

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Historic photos

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Videos & media

Sir Brian Barratt Boyes – pioneer heart surgeon

F88951 – New Zealand’s Top 100 History Makers, Episode 5 (2005). Archival footage preserved and made available by Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision. Courtesy of Visionary Film & TV.

Former mayor Les Mills opens up about heart surgery

Former Auckland mayor and Olympic athlete Les Mills is speaking out about his heart surgery in support of Brave Hearts

Emma Russell | NZ Herald

High-tech 3D model captures live heart attack

Ahead of World Heart Day, here is a look at the 3D touch screen model developed by the research team from the Auckland Bioengineering Institute and currently on show in the Brave Hearts exhibition at Motat

Jamie Morton | NZ Herald

The father and son heroes of cardiac care in New Zealand

Heart doctors Alan and Andrew Kerr are two unsung heroes of New Zealand cardiac care. Donna Chisholm talks to them on the opening of an exhibition celebrating the pioneering work of Auckland’s Green Lane Hospital.

Donna Chisholm | The Listener

Cardiac Pioneers

As part of the celebrations for the opening of Brave Hearts at MOTAT, the first ever heart and lung bypass patient in New Zealand, Helen Harris has come to Auckland to have a look at what’s on offer.
Helen Harris talks to Jesse about her life saving surgery which was an operation not done before.

Jesse Mulligan | RNZ

Principal sponsor

Special acknowledgement

Lottery Grants Board through the World War One Commemorations, Environment and Heritage (LWEH) Committee.

A full list of donors is available here.

Get in touch

AMMT is a Registered Charitable Trust CC50444 under the New Zealand Charities Act 2005.