DeBakey’s surgical film stand

January 12, 2008 § 7 Comments

It’s a little-known fact that Michael E. DeBakey, world-renowned pioneer of cardiovascular surgery, was also one of the first surgeons to capture his operations on film. I only discovered it recently myself. Having heard the call for DeBakey forceps in the OR a lot, it was interesting to find out he had also invented equipment for filming surgery (photo credit).

DeBakey film stand side

In the 1960’s DeBakey started capturing some of his operations on film for educational purposes. This was long before video cameras became commonplace, so he used conventional film cameras. Most likely 16 mm cameras. These are rather big and bulky, with a large film cartridge.

Surgical film stand designed by Michael E. DeBakeyTo get a good view of the surgical field, the camera has to be placed as straight above it as possible. In the 60’s remote control was not an option. So the cameraman could not be placed in a corner of the OR with a console and a monitor. He had to be were the camera was. To achieve this DeBakey designed a film stand were the cameraman could lie above the surgeons with a great view of the operating area (photo credit).

Today this design may seem a little strange. With video came the possibility to transfer picture information as electric signals, and the capturing and recording units could be separated. Smaller cameras could be designed and remote controlled. But none the less DeBakey’s film stand appeals to me.

As you can see in the photo, the camera and cameraman is out of the way. The construction no doubt made it more comfortable to film longer operations (but maybe easier to fall asleep). Most important though, is that it put the cameraman as close to the surgery as possible. Making it easier to communicate with the surgeons and focus on the relevant steps in the operation.

A big construction like this would not fit in any ORs I’ve been to, but it would have been interesting to try it. Floating above, looking down. What a great way to work.

Here is an interview with Joe Zwer who used to be one of the cameramen working with DeBakey. Sadly, he can report that the film stand didn’t solve the age old problem of surgeons getting their heads in the way…

One of the three stands that were built is on display at the Micheal E. DeBakey Library and Museum in Houston, Texas.

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§ 7 Responses to DeBakey’s surgical film stand

  • Maya Chandra says:

    HI !
    We are a video production company based in Bangalore, India. We specialise in filming surgeries and have been doing this for the past 8 years. We have even done a 3-camera shoot of a rare cardiac procedure.
    We have been able to develop our own native techniques to get the best surgery videos for training and documentation by the surgeons.
    It is a fascinating area of work and we enjoy it thoroughly !
    We are using the DV Cam set up and have recently tried HD Video too.
    We would love to share the experiences.


    • Graham Double says:

      Hi Maya,

      I am currently consulting with Amrita Institute in Kochin regarding surgical video documenting there. My background is in documentary filmaking and I would appreciate any assistance you might be able to give me in application to medical filming.

      Thank you,
      Graham Double

  • Maya.

    I would be very happy to hear about how you are doing the filming! I am beginning to film surgery’s with an HDV camera and am having problems with the lighting. It’s just so bright at the point of surgery. Any suggestions?


  • Mike Cohen says:

    Cine-Med has been in the surgical video business for almost 30 years. We used to use something not quite as huge as the DeBakey system, but equally big and bulky. In fact we used this setup until the early 2000’s Then we switched to DV cameras and now HDV. The rule of thumb for videotaping surgery is “be ready for anything” and of course communicate with the surgeons – and most important of all, make friends with the circulating nurse – he or she is your best chance of getting the camera in a good spot.
    Mike Cohen

  • nelc says:

    the beginnings. nice work.

  • […] never seen this kind of set-up before. Although smaller than the DeBakey stand, the large camera would of course demand a clever solution. A light with a hole in the middle would […]

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