Nikolay Mikhailovich was born on December 6, 1913, in Olkhovo village of the Vologda province. His mother, Elizaveta Kirillovna was a local midwife. She was an honest woman, who never accepted presents from her patients, and a role model for the future famous surgeon who acted likewise. His father, a soldier in the First World War, returned from German captivity in 1919. Later, he left his family for another woman and Amosov never forgave him.
Amosov finished elementary school in his native village. In 1926, he entered the “second level” school (Cherepovets middle school #1), and later the Lumber-mechanical technical college in Cherepovets. In 1932 he graduated with a Technician diploma, and spent 3 years working at the Arkhangelsk Power station as a mechanic. During this time, young Amosov read a lot, and showed a great interest in inventing and improving devices and machinery. Faced with the insufficiency of his technical knowledge, Amosov entered the All-Union extramural industrial institute in Moscow in 1934. He also married Galina Soboleva in the same year.
Nikolay Amosov showed interest not only in technology, but also in medicine. In 1935, he entered the Arkhanglelsk State Medical Institute, from where he graduated with excellence 4 years later. There, he met V.E. Lashkarev, a distinguished physicist who introduced Amosov to the “world of parapsychology”. Amosov wanted to continue his postgraduate study in physiology; however, the Institute only had openings in the military surgery department. This is how Amosov, almost by a complete accident, got into surgery. However, due to a number of circumstances, Amosov left his postgraduate study and returned to Cherepovets, where he began working as a resident physician at the department of surgery of the interregional hospital. He also taught at the local first aid/obstetric school. In his free time, he worked on preparing his thesis for the Industrial Institute, attempting to design a plane with a steam turbine engine. Amosov graduated the Institute with excellence in 1940.
In 1941, Amosov was drafted into the Red Army. He was immediately appointed as the head surgeon at a mobile field hospital, where he worked throughout the war on several fronts: Western, Bryansk, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Belorussian fronts, as well as the 1st Far East front (1945). In 1944, Nikolay Mikhailovich married Lidiya Denisenko, a surgical nurse.
During the war, Amosov collected enough research material for his Candidate’s Dissertation “On knee joint wounds”, which he defended in Gorkiy (today Nizhniy Novgorod) in 1948. He became an experienced surgeon and could deal with all parts of the body. He was especially adept at treating chest and joint wounds, as well as thigh bone fractures.
After the dissolution of the hospital, Amosov and his wife were assigned to another unit. They found themselves in Manchuria, treating typhus-infected Japanese captives. In February 1946, Amosov was appointed as a resident surgeon at a district hospital. At that time, it was no small feat for a young doctor to leave army service. Thanks to his connections, as well as his engineer diploma, he managed to arrange a transfer to Moscow, where he was assigned to supervise the surgical department at the Sklifosovsky Institute. Much of the equipment at the hospital was broken, which became a real challenge for the engineer. The Amosovs only spent a year in the capital, because they found the work not rewarding enough. The equipment was uninteresting, and opportunities to perform surgery nonexistent, which made working in Moscow unattractive. Eventually, thanks to L. Bykova, Amosov was offered the position of chief surgeon of Bryansk oblast and the head of the department at the Bryansk regional hospital .
Nikolay Mikhailovich kept this position throughout 1947-1952. Here, while studying other branches of surgery, Amosov concentrated on chest surgery, which was poorly researched in the USSR at the time. He became successful in treating surgical and oncological lung, esophagus, and forestomach damage. His surgery results were among the best in the Soviet Union. The surgeon had many good memories of this period in his life:his excellent work and wonderful people, many difficult medical cases and operations. His principal achievement in Bryansk was designing a new method of lung reduction during abscess, cancer, and tuberculosis treatment.
In November 1952, the family moved to Kyiv on a special invitation from A.S. Mamolat, director of the Kyiv Tuberculosis Institute. There, Amosov was supposed to supervise the thoracic surgery clinic specially created for that purpose . At first, he hated Kyiv, his one-room apartment, low-grade surgery, having to work in two places at once, lack of patients, and lazy assistants. He missed Bryansk and even occasionally went back to operate there. However, eventually Amosov adjusted to the new workplace. His wife entered Kyiv Medical Institute, while Amosov himself defended another Doctor’s Thesis on the topic of “Pneumonectomy and lung reduction for tuberculosis treatment”, which was met with approval of A.N. Bakulev, one of the leading Soviet surgeons at the time, and Amosov was elected to be a professor at the Medical Institute.
In 1955, Amosov founded and headed the department of chest surgery for doctors’ professional development, first in the Soviet Union, which later also gave birth to the department of anesthesiology. The department brought up hundreds of valuable specialists.
In 1956, the surgeon was finally blessed with a daughter, Katya, after 20 years of marriage. While Amosov never felt the need to have children, he loved his daughter, who became one of the key priorities in his life. He educated his daughter in a scientific way : the girl could read at three years old, and began learning English at four. Amosov also constantly took her to visit theaters, museums, exhibitions in Moscow and Leningrad, and even in Germany.
In 1957, Amosov visited a surgeon convention in Mexico which presented a heart surgery using a bypass (CPB) pump. The visit inspired Amosov to create a similar device on his own. Together with his staff, doctor I. Lissov, and design engineers O. Mavrodiy and A. Trubchaninov, he developed a reliable, widely applicable CPB device, which was one of the first to be implemented in medical practice in the USSR.
In 1959, the already famous Amosov founded and headed the biological cybernetics department at the Institute of Cybernetics of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR. Under his direction, the department conducted fundamental research on heart autoregulation systems, designed and constructed a physiological model of human body’s internal milieu, modeled basic psychic functions and socio-psychological mechanisms of human behavior using computers. Amosov saw the future of medicine in interdisciplinary sciences like biology, physics, chemistry, and cybernetics. The latter was going to turn medicine into one of the most precise sciences. His view on the human body from the standpoint of bio-cybernetics is very interesting. He wrote, “A human is a complex, self-learning and self-organizing system. The system works using a multitude of strictly defined programs. If the body develops according to the program, the person is healthy. Sickness, on the other hand, is nothing but a manifestation of program erosion under the effect of biological, physiological, and other external forces.”
Amosov thought that the main task for future medicine was to achieve artificial control over the body, in order to define and modify its programs. His dream was to create an artificial intelligence.
In early 1962, Nikolay Amosov was elected associate member of the Academy of Medical Sciences of the USSR, at the suggestion of the academy’s president A.N. Bakulev himself. At the same time, Nikolay Mikhailovich was also elected deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, a position he held for another four terms.
In 1962, Amosov also began to write. He was moved by the death of a girl during a surgery. Amosov described the day in order to vent his feelings. When his writer friend Dold-Mikhailyk read the story, he helped Amosov to publish it in a magazine. This later became the beginning of the world-famous novel, “The thoughts and heart”. Later on, Amosov continued to write, releasing a number of books, e.g. "Notes from the Future", "PPG 22-66. “The notes of a field surgeon", "The Book of happiness and misery", “Voices of the times”, “Thoughts on health”, all of which have been repeatedly published both in the USSR and abroad.
In 1963, Amosov was the first surgeon in the Soviet Union to perform mitral valve replacement; in 1965 he created and implemented world’s first antithrombotic artificial heart valves. He also invented a series of new surgical treatment methods for cardiac defects, and created several original models of CPB pumps.
In 1982, the famous surgeon announced that he would take a break from surgery and concentrate on cybernetics. This came as a result of mental stress and inability to deal with patient deaths. He spent three months living in his cottage, designing social models, and visiting conferences. By November, Amosov began recovering and slowly resumed medical practice.
In 1983, the cardiovascular surgery clinic of the Kyiv Scientific Research Institute (SRI) of tuberculosis and chest surgery was reorganized as the Kyiv SRI of cardiovascular surgery of the Ministry of Health of the Ukrainian SSR. Amosov, who had been the deputy head of the clinic since 1968, became director of the newly established institute until 1989. Throughout its years of operation, the clinic created by the talented surgeon performed around 7,000 lung reductions, and over 95,000 cardiac defect surgeries, including 36,000 using a CPB pump.
In summer 1985, Amosov first faced health issues. He needed a cardiac pacemaker, but refused to install one until he developed hypertension. In early 1986, he left the Institute to his assistant and went to Kaunas to have the surgery, performed by Y. Bredikus. The surgery went well, and by February 1986, Amosov returned to normal life.
In December 1988 , Amosov turned 75 and decided to resign from the position of the director. He continued medical practice, however, and performed weekly surgeries using CPB.
Only in 1992 did he completely retire from medical practice. After a patient died from the infection two months after a surgery, Amosov decided that one should not operate on the heart at 80. However, he continued to visit the institute weekly.
In the winter of 1998, his heart condition deteriorated. In May, he had another surgery, this time in Germany. The examination confirmed aortic valve stenosis and coronary artery disease. On May 29, a German professor installed a biological artificial valve and performed two aortocoronary bypasses. Three weeks after the successful surgery, Amosov returned home.
The scientist’s life ended on December 12, 2002. He died from an extensive myocardial infarction.
As one of the most famous surgeons in the world, Amosov considered operating on the esophagus, lungs, and particularly the heart to be his life’s work. He always took up the scalpel at the threat of an impending death of a patient, oftentimes when nobody else would do so. He created a whole school of cardiac surgeons in Ukraine; he advised the defense of 35 Doctor’s and 85 Candidate’s Theses. A pioneer in cybernetic research in the USSR, Amosov developed directional models of the human organism, researched “artificial intelligence”, and attempted to build an “optimal society” model. The scientist left behind around 400 scientific papers, including 20 treatises on cardiovascular diseases, suppurant diseases, and tuberculosis, as well as on various topics in physiological, sociological, and psychological cybernetics.
Nikolay M. Amosov
Nikolay Mikhailovich Amosov – one of the most famous heart surgeons in the world, a talented scientist, a founder of bio-cybernetics in Ukraine, and a widely recognized writer both in Ukraine and abroad.