Dr Bigelow completed his Doctorate in Medicine at the University of Toronto in 1938. Born in Manitoba, he served in the Royal Canadian Army in Europe during World War II. He began working at the Surgery Service at the Toronto General Hospital and at the surgery department of the University of Toronto in 1948.

He introduced the Heart Surgery Service to hypothermia in animals that hibernate in winter.

Dr Bigelow affirmed that the cold reduces drastically the metabolism of these animals and the oxygen needed and consumed by the vital organs is minimal during this period.

He proposed the hypothesis that if we reduce a patient’s temperature to 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit (or 23 degrees Celsius), we could stop the blood circulation for up to a 3 or 4 times longer period. This length of time could allow for a short surgery to be performed.

In 1950, he experienced his hypothesis on 120 dogs. He successfully stopped the circulation at the heart and at the brain allowing for a heart surgery to be done at a temperature of 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Despite his immense desire to try hypothermia in a desperately ill child, his surgical practice was in adults and he received no patient referrals.

He had to content himself of watching other surgeons benefit from his discovery.


Dr Wilfred Bigelow was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 1997.

He died on March 27, 2005 at 91 years of age.