February 24, 1954
Vladimir Petrovich Demikhov successfully joins two dogs in a controversial transplant experiment
Demikhov had previous experimented with dogs, trying to perfect organ transplant with hearts and lungs; his hope was to eventually perform successful organ transplants on humans.
After completing several organ transplants, Demikhov began experimenting with creating two-headed dogs. On February 24, 1954, after a 3.5-hour long surgery, Demikhov successfully completed his twenty-fourth double-headed dog experiment. He grafted the head, chest, and forelegs of a 9-year-old dog named Shavka to the neck of a stray dog picked up by a local dog catcher (this dog was named Brodyaga, or “Tramp”). The surgery involved isolating every blood vessel and tying each closed temporarily before removing the vital organs. The heart and lungs remained, albeit temporarily, as Demikhov cut Shavka’s spinal column. He then severed Shavka’s arteries, spliced them with Brodyaga’s, then removed Shavka’s heart and lungs. Lastly, Demikhov stitched the dogs’ skin together.
While Demikhov considered the experiment to be a success, the dogs died four days later. As LIFE reported, one of the “connecting neck veins was accidentally strangled, and during the night both dogs died. But Demikvoh considers this an accident, not a surgical failure.” He continued his experiments of grafting dogs onto each other for some time, with the longest-living group surviving for 38 days in 1968.
Demikhov hoped one day to see the creation of tissue banks used to house refrigerated body parts for transplant, including corneas, livers, hearts, and limbs. He did not have to wait long, as the first successful kidney transplant in a human recipient was completed almost exactly 10 months later on December 23, 1954, and the end of the next decade saw successful liver, heart, and pancreas transplants.
Demikhov died in relative obscurity in 1998, though he was considered by cardiac surgeon Christiaan Barnard — who had performed the world’s first human heart transplant in 1967 — to be the “founder of transplantology.”
“History of transplantation.” United Network of Organ Sharing. Accessed: February 24, 2020. https://unos.org/transplant/history/
O’Carroll, Sinead. “The history of the two-headed dog experiment.” The Journal. February 16, 2013. Accessed: February 24, 2020. https://www.thejournal.ie/two-headed-dogs-794157-Feb2013/
Matskeplishvili, Simon. “Vladimir Petrovich Demikhov (1916–1998): A pioneer of transplantation ahead of his time, who lived out the end of his life as an unknown and in poor circumstances.” European Heart Journal. Volume 38, Issue 46. December 7, 2017. Accessed: February 24, 2020. https://academic.oup.com/eurheartj/article/38/46/3406/4706202
Stevens, Edmund. “How Shavka Joined Brodyaga.” LIFE. July 20, 1959. Page 79.