Until the appointment of James Baird in November 1952 as Wellington Hospital's first specialist thoracic surgeon, general surgeons had carried out any chest surgery that was required. Dr Eric Luke emerged as the general surgeon with a particular interest in thoracic surgery. He had undertaken a period of postgraduate study in thoracic surgery and anaesthesia in 1935. Dr Richard Orgias was appointed assistant thoracic surgeon in 1949. The next general surgeon to develop such an interest was Dr Eardley Button. He took over the dominant role in thoracic surgery at the Hospital in 1950, the year Eric Luke retired, and travelled to the Brompton Hospital in London in 1952 to study this surgical area. However, with the arrival of Jim Baird at the end of 1952, Eardley Button had to be content with general surgery.
Jim Baird introduced a number of new thoracic surgical techniques, including root dissection for lobectomy and pneumonectomy, and he also introduced segmental lung resection. The development of the specialty was further enhanced in 1955 by the appointment of Dr Tim Savage.
The first surgeon to be appointed who was trained in cardiac surgical techniques, was James Baird. Prior to his arrival in 1952, there had been occasional cardiac operations undertaken by general surgeons.
The first of these was performed on 14 Oct 1938 by Dr John Cairney. The operation was a cardio-omentopexy, performed for the relief of intractable angina. The idea for this operation had been brought back to NZ from London by Dr Fred Bowerbank, Wellington Hospital's first Cardiologist. A second similar operation was performed on 18 Aug 1939 by Dr Sydney Rhind, assisted by John Cairney. These were the first such operations performed in New Zealand (and possibly in Australasia), and were not undertaken again.
On 16 May 1944, Dr Herbert McNickle, Resident Surgeon, successfully ligated an infected patent ductus arteriosus in a young man. This was the first ductal ligation in New Zealand. Richard Orgias performd the next ductal ligation at Wellington Hospital, also in the presence of infection, on 21 Feb 1947. There were four more ductal ligations performed before Jim Baird's arrival.
On 30 Jun 1944, the first pericardiectomy for constrictive pericarditis was undertaken by Herbert McNickle. Two further pericardiectomies were undertaken before Jim Baird commenced work at the Hospital.
Jim Baird introduced surgery for a wider spectrum of congenital heart disease, including aortic coarctation, and he introduced closed mitral valvotomy for patients with mitral stenosis. It was not until 1964 that Health Department approval was granted for the setting up in Wellington of the second national cardiac surgery unit. Jim Baird and Tim Savage were then able to use cardiopulmonary bypass techniques for intracardiac congenital defects, and, from late in 1966, valve replacement surgery.
Cardiothoracic Surgery service location
From 1943, a majority of adult patients undergoing thoracic surgery were located in Ward 28, on the top floor of the 210-block. Ward 28 was exclusively used for cardiothoracic patients from 1953 until 1966. The Unit then moved to Ward 24 in the newly-opened Seddon Block.
Cardiothoracic surgery was undertaken in the Main Theatre block until 1958, when Theatre 3 was opened. This was a "temporary" construction, located adjacent to the corridor leading to the 210-block, and it remained the site for cardiothoracic surgery until the move to the Seddon Block in 1966. Now, for the first time, the Cardiothoracic Surgeons had a purpose-built, 2-theatre complex, plus a small high-dependancy recovery ward adjacent to their ward, Ward 24. However this independence and integration did not last and sometime after the opening of theatres in the Clinical Services Block ('Block B'), the Seddon Wing-based theatres were decommissioned.