Experiments in the Revival of Organisms is a 1940 motion picture which documents Soviet research into the resuscitation of clinically dead organisms by Doctor Sergey Sergeyevich Bryukhonenko (1890–1960).
The British scientist J. B. S. Haldane appears in the film’s introduction and narrates the film, which contains Russian text with English applied next to, or over the top of, the Russian. The operations are credited to Doctor Sergey Sergeyevich Bryukhonenko (1890–1960), a Soviet scientist during the Stalinist era.
Contents of the film
The film depicts and discusses, without going into much technical detail, a series of medical experiments. First, a heart (canine, as with all in this film) is shown beating isolated from a body, with four tubes connected. It then shows a lung in a tray, operated by bellows, oxygenating blood. Following the lung scene we are shown the operation of a primitive heart-lung machine, the autojektor (or autojector), composed of a pair of diaphragm linear pumps and what appears to be an oxygen bubble chamber. We then see it is supplying a canine head with oxygenated blood. The head is shown to respond to external stimuli, but the film does not show the arterial and venal connections to the head. Finally, a dog is brought to clinical death (mostly via a graphical plot of lung and heart activity) by draining all blood from it, left for ten minutes, then connected to the heart-lung machine described earlier. After several minutes, the heart fibrillates, then restarts a normal rhythm. Respiration likewise resumes, the machine is removed and the dog is shown to continue living a healthy life.
Patent model of the autojektor.
Fact or fiction?
Since its Prelinger Archives release, the film has provoked much controversy. Ken Smith, author of Mental Hygiene: Classroom Films 1945 – 1970, believes the film is fake. He mentions, among other things, that the decapitated dog scene shown in the film could have been produced with simple special effects. Others are skeptical of J. B. S. Haldane’s ties to the Communist party; they propose that the film was produced as Soviet propaganda.
Ryukhonenko’s decapitation experiment was remarked upon by George Bernard Shaw. The procedure with severed head only mentioned oxygenated blood being fed back into the severed head. Neural cells require other components besides just oxygen to survive and function properly for anything but the briefest time. Also, the head jerks and moves at some moments, which would be impossible without the neck muscles attached to the torso and spinal bones. It seems likely that while experiments were really carried out, the operation depicted in the video was staged for the purpose of producing this science film.
Bryukhonenko’s research was vital to the development of open-heart procedures in Russia. He was one of the leaders of the Research Institute of Experimental Surgery, where Professor A.A. Vishnevsky performed the first Soviet open-heart operation in 1957.Bryukhonenko developed a new version of the autojektor (for use on humans) in the same year; it can be seen today on display at the Museum of Cardiovascular Surgery at the Scientific Center of Cardiovascular Surgery in Russia. Bryukhonenko was awarded the prestigious Lenin Prize posthumously.