Atlas of the Heart

This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.

McGill University, Maude Abbott Collection P111

The cardiac catalogue.

To fix something, you must have a decent understanding of what’s wrong with it. So to have any hope of repairing a damaged heart, you first must know all the ailments and abnormalities that can afflict this vital organ. The Atlas of Congenital Cardiac Disease gave heart surgeons that critical knowledge for the first time. Published in 1936, the cardiac catalogue was the work of a remarkable woman named Maude Abbott. A trained medical pathologist, she used her position as assistant curator of McGill University Medical Museum to collect and study the hearts of people who had died of cardiac problems. A tireless professional, she also scoured historical records, scrupulously compiling cardiac anomalies identified during autopsies. When finished, her work became the foundational document of modern heart surgery, stimulating multiple advances in the physiology of the organ and the diagnosis of heart ailments. What makes Dr. Abbott’s accomplishment all the more remarkable is the sexism she encountered at every stage of her career, beginning with being denied entry to medical school at McGill because she was a woman, a practice that ended finally in 1918. Call it a long-overdue change of heart.

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