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Viking Olov Björk was born on 3 December 1918 inSunnansjö, Dalecarlia, Sweden. After graduation from medical school in Sweden, he became a cardiovascular surgeon during the era of rapid developments in the field. As a young man, he served a registrarship at the Brompton Hospital in London, where he was exposed to the famous pulmonary surgeons Tudor Edwards and Sir Clement Price Thomas. Dr. Dwight Harken, the pioneer military surgeon who had removed shrapnel and bullets from soldiers' hearts, had also served as registrar at that hospital. All became mentors or heroes of mine during my tenure there.
Soon after, at Sabbatsberg Hospital (Stockholm), Viking was part of the team working with Clarence Crafoord, who pioneered repair of coarctation of the aorta and made some of the earliest attempts at cardiopulmonary bypass. One of Viking's contributions—which certainly revealed his intrepidness—was performing cardiac catheterization via a long needle that was inserted through the thoracic wall to engage chambers of the heart. In 1953, Dr. Björk collaborated with Drs. Malmstrom and Blakemore to perform a complete left-heart catheterization and the first operative diagnosis of left atrial myxoma.
Because of his contributions as surgeon and investigator, he became head of cardiovascular surgery at Uppsala University (1958–1966), then was called to the chairmanship of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, where he also headed the Thoracic Surgical Clinic at Karolinska Hospital.
He collaborated with the brilliant Don Shiley in designing a tilting disk, synthetic valve prosthesis (the Björk-Shiley valve), which had its clinical introduction in January 1969. For a time, it was the most widely used mechanical prosthesis in the world. Much to Viking's disappointment, the valve developed structural and material failures, which led to litigation.
During Viking's career, he was a prolific investigator and author, publishing papers on topics that included myocardial protection, obstructive cardiomyopathy, and repair of ventricular septal defects. After retirement from active clinical practice, he developed a research program at the Eisenhower Institute in Palm Springs and studied hypothermia and other subjects. He died at age 90—one of the greatest and best known of the pioneers in cardiothoracic surgery.