Heartfelt thanks for surgery 60 years ago

Show of appreciation from first NSW patient


Rodney Merrett was the first person to receive open heart surgery in NSW at the RPA Hospital. Inset: He is pictured front left with his surgeon and other patients.

RODNEY Merrett was the first person in NSW to have open heart surgery.

It was in 1957 at RPA Hospital and he was just nine years old.

Sixty years later and his heart is still going strong.

Mr Merrett has many memories from his experience at the hospital.

“I remember being taken via a tunnel under Missenden Rd to the Page Chest pavilion,” Mr Merrett said.

“All the nurses met me at the lift, wished me all the best and kissed me good night.

“The next thing I remember is being in a room with a strange looking machine nearby – I was told it was a heart lung machine,” he said.

While the hospital can be a scary place for a child, Mr Merrett made the most of his time there getting up to mischief.

He said the whole experience was one big adventure.

He said there were other children who were having heart surgery around the same time.

“I was spoiled pretty well there,” Mr Merrett said.

“I was awake quite early in the morning and the nurses would take me around to the kitchenette and feed me toast. I would then get a ride on the delivery trolley.

“We would get up to all sorts of shenanigans like hiding from the nurses when injection time was due and taking a walk outside the hospital.”

Mr Merrett said his heart condition was discovered when he was four years old and if the operation had not been performed he would not have lived past 15.

After his surgery, Mr Merrett spent the weeks afterwards at the beach where he would tell people his scar was from a shark bite.

While he has had a few operations since, Mr Merrett said the doctors did a remarkable job on him in 1957.

“Those doctors didn’t have the diagnostic tools that they have today,” Mr Merrett said.

“I am extremely grateful, without them I would not be here.”

To show his appreciation the 69-year-old returned to Sydney last week to support the Baird Institute — a heart and lung surgical research institute at RPA aimed at improving outcomes for patients facing surgery.

Mr Merrett participated in a panel interview with other patients who had undergone similar surgeries.

“Those doctors didn’t have the diagnostic tools that they have today. I am extremely grateful, without them I would not be here.”
Rodney Merrett