Posted in Book Review, Memoir, Non-Fiction

Fragile Lives Stephen Westaby – 5* Review


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.

Amazon UK


My Thoughts…

I’m not usually drawn to biographies, but this one interested me. An absorbing and provoking read, it captured my attention long into the night.

‘Fragile Lives’, documents a surgeon’s successful career, through a detailed description of keynote cases during a pioneering time for heart surgery. The medical terms are integral to the book, but they are understandable, and if you’re confused there is a glossary at the back. 

This is a  candid, passionate memoir. Every chapter demonstrates the surgeon’s dedication to his work, compassion for his patients and understandable frustrations with a system that focuses purely on outcomes rather than the quality of life.

 The real-life characters of this book are complex and memorable, I recalled some of the groundbreaking cases that became front page news, and it is fascinating to read the stories behind the headlines. 

For me, though it is the unknown cases, those that shaped this man’s career and life that are the most poignant. Even though, as a surgeon he appreciates the necessity of objectivity and not getting personally involved with his patients’lives, these cases prove that it’s not always possible to stand on the sidelines and sometimes you have to risk your own peace of mind for the greater good.

This story is as captivating as any fictional tale. The unpredictable twists and turns,  vivid characters and the life and death action will keep you reading until the last word.

I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins UK  via NetGalley in return for an honest review.



Author, blogger and book reviewer. I am the author of 'The Dragon Legacy' series and 'The Dangerous Gift'. Animal welfare supporter. Loves reading, writing, countryside walks, cookery and gardening, .

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