Fragile Lives

by Stephen Westaby

Biography / Autobiography eBooks of the Month Lifestyle and Health The Real World

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Shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards 2017, Costa Biography Award

Heart surgery is by its very nature a high-risk business and as Professor Stephen Westaby says ‘the grim reaper sits on your shoulder’, but when it is successful it is transformative, to say the least.  


With his 11,000 heart operations behind him Professor Stephen Westaby has been at the forefront of the advances in heart surgery for the last 35 years. Through his boundary-pushing, ethics-bending sometimes maverick approach he has helped make highly radical techniques, with a pretty poor chance of success, mainstream treatments for once fatal conditions.

Fragile Lives is a candid and affecting biography, taking the reader to the heart of the operating theatre and into the lives of the patients whose courage help forge a path to safer and more effective heart surgery for us all.

The Costa Judges say: ‘A powerful, engaging and passionate memoir from a surgical pioneer.’

Fragile Lives Synopsis

SHORTLISTED FOR THE COSTA BIOGRAPHY PRIZE THE SUNDAY TIMES NO.2 BESTSELLER WINNER OF THE BMA PRESIDENT'S AWARD 2017

An incredible memoir from one of the world's most eminent heart surgeons, recalling some of the most remarkable and poignant cases he's worked on. Grim Reaper sits on the heart surgeon's shoulder. A slip of the hand and life ebbs away. The balance between life and death is so delicate, and the heart surgeon walks that rope between the two. In the operating room there is no time for doubt. It is flesh, blood, rib-retractors and pumping the vital organ with your bare hand to squeeze the life back into it. An off-day can have dire consequences - this job has a steep learning curve, and the cost is measured in human life. Cardiac surgery is not for the faint of heart. Professor Stephen Westaby took chances and pushed the boundaries of heart surgery. He saved hundreds of lives over the course of a thirty-five year career and now, in his astounding memoir, Westaby details some of his most remarkable and poignant cases - such as the baby who had suffered multiple heart attacks by six months old, a woman who lived the nightmare of locked-in syndrome, and a man whose life was powered by a battery for eight years. A powerful, important and incredibly moving book, Fragile Lives offers an exceptional insight into the exhilarating and sometimes tragic world of heart surgery, and how it feels to hold someone's life in your hands.

Fragile Lives Press Reviews

`Raw and moving... the writing is thrilling. Fragile Lives is a frank and absorbing memoir by a man who has done about as much good to his fellow human beings as it is possible to do in one lifetime.' - The Times, Book of the Week

`With his battle cry of bugger protocol and his renaming of medical directors as the Stasi , Westaby comes across as the bloke you'd want on your side in the fight to stay alive.
Guardian Books of the Year

`The stakes could not be higher in this bloody, muscular and adrenaline-charged memoir from a pioneering heart surgeon... at points it made my own heart race dangerously. `Surgeons are meant to be objective,
Westaby tells himself

`not human'. What makes this book so fascinating, and so moving, is the terrible tension between these necessary qualities.' - Sunday Times

`A full-frontal and thrilling portrayal. Each story in this fascinating book brings a new nail-biting surgical adventure... A gifted surgeon, Westaby is also a natural writer... Fragile Lives succeeds on many levels: political battle cry, chronicle of bloody feats, history of modern cardiology, tribute to patients and paean to surgery.' - Daily Telegraph

`Westaby is everything you would hope from a maverick surgical genius: authoritative, engaged, passionate and opinionated. His book, annoyingly well written for someone who has penned only medical papers and handbooks, reads like a thriller, except with rather more corpses. You race to each chapter's end to see if his certain-to-die patient survives.' - The Times

`The book is a cracking example of a thriving sub-genre of autobiography, the medical memoir. Anyone who enjoyed the 2014 bestseller Do No Harm by the brain surgeon Henry Marsh, a friend of Westaby's, will relish Fragile Lives, too. Each story is gripping, written in a vivid, almost brutal way that matches the blood and gore of cardiac surgery.' - Financial Times

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All versions of this book

ISBN: 9780008196783
Publication date: 01/01/2018
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9780008196769
Publication date: 09/02/2017
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
Format: Hardback

Book Information

ISBN: 9780008196783
Publication date: 1st January 2018
Author: Stephen Westaby
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 320 pages
Genres: Biography / Autobiography, Costa Awards 2017, eBook Favourites, Lifestyle & Health, The Real World,
Categories: Cardiothoracic surgery, Memoirs,

About Stephen Westaby

Steve Westaby is a celebrated world-famous heart surgeon who is renowned for being the first surgeon in history to fit a patient with a new type of artificial heart. During his 35-year career as a surgeon he worked at several of the UK's top hospitals and performed over 11,000 heart operations. He won the Ray C. Fish Award for Scientific Achievement (2004). In 2004 Steve Westaby was featured in the BBC documentary Your Life in Their Hands, which is a long-running series on the subject of surgery.

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