any people still believe that Dr. Vladimir Demikhov played God in his numerous attempts to “create” a two-headed dog, but without this successful experiment/surgery which was a huge contribution not only to the medical but scientific field, not even to this day may we have perfected organ transplants or coronary surgery. All of this was happening whilst the Cold War had just begun so the western world made whatever of this scientific news as the papers were written in Russian.
A pioneer in Transplantology
Dr. Vladimir Demikhov was a true pioneering surgeon that tried to find better ways to improve the death rate for common surgeries as well as prove to the world that a foreign organism can be compatible with another one. Many contemporary surgeons still name Demikhov as the father of transplant surgeries throughout his career.
In 1948, Demikhov was doing research, trying to prove that a single organism’s blood circulation system is strong enough to support another foreign organism, in this case, another head as the brain requires a high amount of blood and oxygen to function properly. In the same year, he wrote some theoretical papers about the “surgical combination of two animals with the creation of a single circulation”.
He never took into consideration what people would think or say about this experiment/procedure as he was doing all of this in the name of science and to offer better alternatives to those that have problems with their organs. This procedure inspired the first successful human-to-human heart transplant which took place in 1967.
An impossible task
At the time as you can imagine due to the poor technological advances in the medical world, such a procedure seemed impossible to most people, even world-renowned surgeons thought that Demikhov was crazy trying to actually think that such a procedure is possible. From 1954 to 1959 24 such surgeries took place with the 24th being the most promising attempt of them all.
For the 24th attempt, Demikhov chose two different subjects, a German Shepard that Demikhov named Brodyaga (tramp in Russian) and a smaller dog which he named Shavka. The procedure would have Brodyaga as the host and Shavka would be the dog supplying the neck and head which would be attached to the host.
The idea was to amputate the lower body of Shavka in order to keep her own heart and lungs connected until the last minute before the procedure took place. Whilst all of this was happening, an incision to Brodyaga’s neck would be made where the upper body of Shavka would be attached (this includes the head, neck, and upper limbs). The rest of the surgery was vascular reconstruction.
After a day of recovery, both dog’s or better said, the two-headed dog was in great shape, taking into consideration the previous 23 attempts. The operation only took three and a half hours and after a day’s recovery, the two-headed dogs or to be more specific, both heads reclaimed their sense (hearing, smelling, seeing, feeling, and tasting).
Sadly, this two-headed dog lived only for 4 days due to a vein accidentally being damaged in the neck. If this accident would have not taken place, Demikhov said that the dog could have lived even up to 40 days.
Surely, at the time this sort of surgery had no real-life applications, but such experiments lead to opening the eyes to the possibilities of the medical field and that the impossible is only a boundary set by us as a society. Interestingly enough, a similar procedure was attempted in 1908 by a surgeon called Dr. Alexis Carrel and his partner, Dr. Charles Guthrie. Their two-headed dog showed promising results, however, they died within hours of the procedure.