The start of pediatric cardiac
surgery at the Children's Hospital-
the Ferguson-Cumming Era: 1950s-1981
Dr. Colin Ferguson, the first pediatric cardiac surgeon to operate in Winnipeg, began operating on children with heart problems in Winnipeg in the 1950s. This was at the time when the field of pediatric cardiac surgery was beginning to be recognized as a specialty separate and apart from adult cardiac surgery.
Coincident with Ferguson's career in Winnipeg, Dr. Gordon Cumming, a pediatric cardiologist, practised at the Children's Hospital. Together, Ferguson and Cumming provided Manitoba's first pediatric cardiac service. Before his retirement in 1978, Ferguson began to reduce the number of operations he was performing. After Ferguson's retirement, Dr. Jary Barwinsky, an adult cardiac surgeon at St. Boniface General Hospital, performed minor heart operations on children. Barwinsky generally restricted his operations to older, larger children and did not perform surgery on neonates. For that reason, Cumming, who was the only pediatric cardiologist in the city, referred such patients to pediatric cardiac surgery programs in other provinces.
Pediatric cardiac surgery was re-instituted at the Children's Hospital when Dr. Alberto de la Rocha was appointed to a position in the Department of Surgery at the HSC in 1978. By the fall of 1979, however, it was apparent that de la Rocha's success rate at pediatric cardiac surgery was mixed at best. Cumming lost confidence in both de la Rocha and the program, concluding that there were not enough cases in Manitoba to allow the surgeon to maintain an appropriate level of skill. As a result, Cumming stopped referring any of his patients to de la Rocha for surgery.
From 1979 onward, Cumming sent those patients who needed surgery to cardiac surgery programs in other provinces. De la Rocha continued to operate on children referred to him by other medical practitioners, but his caseload of pediatric cases never rose above a few dozen in any given year, with fewer than twenty open-heart procedures being part of this caseload.
The Ferguson-Cumming era ended in 1981, when Cumming retired from full-time staff at the Children's Hospital. By that time, very little pediatric cardiac surgery was being done in Winnipeg. The Health Sciences Centre chose to recruit a new cardiologist who had a vision of a much more expanded program.