Hi all! If you’re new, I am doing a kickstarter campaign for my book based on this blog. So far it has been chosen as a staff pick (literally, before it was even launched) and it gained its minimum funding in only 10 days. That means that if you order it, you’ll get it for sure! The kickstarter is coming to an end in 28 days, (‘til Friday, October 17th) so pre-order asap! As a thank-you for following, and to try to entice anyone else to buy the book, here is a free chapter of the book! This would be in the mad science section of course. Feel free to reblog and repost anywhere for free, so long as you’ve got the kickstarter link. You can also share it very easily, with buttons at the end of this permalink.
Thanks again, and enjoy the chapter! But before you do, please be advised that this article contains disturbing themes, especially for dog lovers like myself, and is presented for the purpose of reviewing history.
Where Brodyaga goes, Shavka goes.
Not that these two dogs are particularly loyal friends. In fact, Brodyaga would initially try to shake Shavka off, initially unable to comprehend his fate that the two were permanently and quite literally attached. Surgically. These two dogs were joined with scalpel, needle and thread by the transplant scientist for the Soviet Union, Vladimir Petrovich Demikhov.
Brodyaga was a stray, his name meaning “Tramp.” He had the misfortune of becoming one of Demikhov’s test subjects, the host for a “two-headed dog.” Shavka was a smaller dog, whose head and upper-body was transplanted onto the shoulders of her counterpart.
Shavka and Brodyaga represent one of twenty-four such experiments. The Russian surgeon had grafted twenty-four upper-bodies of small dogs or puppies onto twenty-four larger dogs. At the longest, one pair lived for twenty-nine days. Most lived closer to a week.
This is the story of their surgery. Both dogs were put under anaesthetic. They were shaved where they would be cut; Brodyaga on his neck and Shavka in her middle, to be bisected. Demikhov and his team cut into Brodyaga’s neck to expose his aorta, jugular vein, and a neck vertebrae. Most of Shavka was wrapped in a towel, exposing her midsection, and the team slowly, carefully cut into her, layer by layer. With great fastidiousness, they attached Shavka’s smaller blood vessels to Brodyaga’s, and then they severed her spine behind her shoulders, so that most of her body was able to be removed. They connected her remaining main blood vessels to his, and then attached and her trachea to his lungs. Shavka’s own heart and lungs were then removed. Her esophagus led to the outside of their bodies.
After awaking from surgery, both dogs were able to move independently. Shavka would try to eat and drink, but she had no stomach to speak of. All her nutrients and oxygenated blood came from Brodyaga. The larger dog could walk them both around the yard, and Shavka would even bite Brodyaga on the ear.
Demikhov started studying biology at the University of Moscow in 1934, and in 1937 he designed the world’s first “successful” cardiac assist device. No one else was able to sustain the pulse of an animal with its heart removed before Demikhov, and his device kept a dog alive for 5 hours. He served as a pathologist in World War II, where he honed his skills as a surgeon. In 1946 he resumed his experimentations on dogs, and he performed the first successful transplantations of hearts, lungs, and heart-lung sets in any mammal. In spite of his enormous contributions to both organ transplantation and the creation of artificial hearts, none of his work gained the fame that the two-headed dog did. In 1989, after performing the vast majority of his research in comparative obscurity, he received the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation’s Pioneer Award. In 1998 he was paralyzed from recurrent strokes, and he died in his apartment.
Demikhov’s experiments, however preternatural, were in fact instrumental in transplant science. Not all of his work was focused on creating Cronenbergs; in general he focused on putting organs such as hearts and lungs into dogs, and by the time of his death, his contributions to medical science were standardized into med school curriculum. In 2004, over 3,000 people worldwide received heart, lung, or heart-and-lung transplants. Although, not all people survive for very long afterwards; only 10% of heart recipients live for 10 years afterwards. But even these successes would be impossible if Demikhov or someone else had not had the initial gusto to do the experiments on animals. Ideally the survivorship rates will only increase as we hone techniques, decrease tissue rejection rates, and improve the technology.
Surely the heart and lung transplants were important, but were all these experiments creating real-life body-horror really necessary? It’s hard to say. The Soviet Union at the time was very much interested in work that they could tout as testament to their superiority, and it’s possible that they saw transplant science as a potential 3-ring circus of Russian propaganda. A dog with two-hearts isn’t much of a thrill for a freakshow.
The landmark Animal Welfare Act of the US wasn’t passed until 1966, and to this day there is no animal welfare legislation in Russia. Even so, people were concerned for the lives of the animals involved in Demikhov’s transplant experiments. In the 1950’s a review committee of the Soviet Ministry of Health was so perturbed by these acts that they demanded that the doctor discontinue immediately. However, Demikhov was at the time working at the Moscow Institute of Surgery, the director of which was not subject to the review committee.
One of Demikhov’s more horrific experiments involved severing the back half of two dogs and swapping them—for example, one yellow dog with a black backside, and one black dog with a yellow backside. As he could not reattach the spinal columns, none of these dogs were able to use their back legs, and these experiments went nowhere. There is no denying that these animals suffered and their premature deaths were tragic. These days it would be unlikely that Demikhov’s experiment proposals would pass an ethics committee, though people still test on animals for the purposes of understanding biology, psychology, medicine, and even (less justifiably), cosmetics in some countries.
It’s easy to say these experiments were just dime-museum attractions since they didn’t directly lead anywhere. Human head transplants are not (yet) a reality in the medical community, and have yet to save any lives. However, it is important to remember that most experiments go nowhere. But that doesn’t mean they were useless. The strange transplants that Demikhov performed taught us that these things are in fact possible, and if done right, perhaps one day they could come into use. The experiments also teach us how extremely difficult transplantation is, and to take that into consideration if head transplantation should ever be pursued again. That’s how science is; you might risk your money, name and reputation for the greater good, or you might lose it for nothing at all.
Dr. Demikhov had visions of transplants galore. Imagine if your body was failing, and you would be able to make use of one of the many cadavers that turn up in hospitals and morgues daily. If transplantation worked universally and without complication, it could be a panacea of medicine. How rarely would one have to live with missing limbs, or blindness, or general organ failure. You could replace your whole body when it got old, so long as there were enough dead people around to provide healthy tissue.
None of the dogs in these experiments lasted very long, despite Demikhov’s skill and surgical knowledge. While it appears that the team had mastered stitching things together, and the extra head was provided with sufficient circulation from the host, what ultimately did in most of his subjects was the problem of tissue rejection. Each body would recognize the other’s blood as foreign and try to fight it. Today we know that we must use immunosuppresants like Cyclosporine to limit the risk of tissue rejection.
Demikhov wasn’t the last person to perform odd, eldritch experiments on animals, nor the last person to even do a head transplant. Other scientists have transplanted heads of newts and monkeys. Scientists, ethicists and the general populace can only speculate at this point if and how this could be useful to humans if head transplants were perfected.
Wherever Brodyaga went, Shavka went. Four days after the operation, one of the neck veins connecting them was strangled, and in the night they both went to their deaths together.