John P. "Jack" Mehrman, 75, who became a medical pioneer in 1954 when he served as his young son's human heart-lung machine during a landmark heart surgery, died of undisclosed causes Oct. 20 in Brooklyn Park, Minn.
Mehrman was a truck driver and cabinetmaker when he and his wife learned that their 4-year-old son, Bradley, needed open heart surgery to live. The boy had been born with a condition that left him with a hole in his heart.
A University of Minnesota heart surgeon, C. Walton Lillehei, had pioneered a surgical technique for fixing the defect, but the heart-lung machine, which pumps and oxygenates blood during heart surgery, had yet to be perfected.
Mehrman agreed to participate in the controversial and experimental alternative: to route his son's blood through him during the operation. The first time it had been done, about a month earlier, the infant patient had died.
"My father gave me life," Bradley Mehrman, 53, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune this week.