The Peacock Club

In preparation for D-Day an American hospital was established in Gloucestershire to treat injured American service personnel. An American Captain in the US Army, Dwight Emery Harken, a thoracic surgeon who had trained at the Brompton Hospital in London, began removing shrapnel from in and around the hearts of servicemen returning injured from the front. Until then it had been the medical profession’s firm opinion that any intervention involving the heart would result in death – it was explicitly forbidden. However Captain Harken operated on the hearts of 134 soldiers. They all survived.

At that time there was little that could be done for children born with fatal heart defects – ‘blue babies’. As a direct result of Captain Harken’s experience, a team of Britain’s leading cardiologists and scientists came together to begin tentatively to operate on those children most seriously afflicted. They planned their interventions with great care and met regularly to discuss, learn and improve. This team became known as The Peacock Club after a 19th century cardiologist. It met at Guy’s Hospital in London under the chairmanship of Dr Maurice Campbell and is documented in a recently published book called ‘The Heart Club’ by Professor Tom Treasure.

I was born on the 11th June 1944 – a ‘blue baby’. I owe my survival to the courage, skill and determination of Surgeon Captain Harken and the members of the Peacock Club.

These brave men put in place the foundation stones for the treatment of congenital heart disease which has enabled so many of us to survive and thrive.

Image credits with thanks to Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital and Kings College