A historical mistake

Paul Bert had been dead for many years when his predecessors erroneously coined him “father” of diving bradycardia. 

While Bert had dedicated much of his career to understanding physiological adaptations to asphyxia, he never actually observed diving bradycardia because, consistently, the endpoint of his experiments was death.

Thus the luminaries of the time gave him this honor erroneously, by concluding that the deceleration of a dying heart was the same as diving bradycardia. If this were true, all deaths of any cause would be preceded by diving bradycardia.

Instead, almost 100 years earlier, a simple medical student at the University of Edinburgh had already observed and elegantly described a profound deceleration of the heart rate when animals were subjected to forced water immersion, and a rapid acceleration once they were removed from the water.

At the end of the 18th century, even the most erudite of physicians believed in the existence of death-like states known as suspended animation.

But Edmund Goodwyn (1756–1829), a mere medical student at the time dedicated his thesis to show that suspended animation was simply the physical manifestation of extreme hypoxia.

His work helped establish the use of artificial ventilation for the treatment of asphyxia, even though many famous physicians of his time supported the use of ineffective resuscitation measures such as heat and exsanguination.

Goodwyn’s remarkable dissertation not only contains the first account of diving bradycardia, but also the first vehement refutations of claims by his contemporaries that pulmonary circulation stopped during exhalation.

Goodwyn’s remarkable graduation thesis is a true treasure of cardiopulmonary physiology.