Dr. George J. Magovern, MCW alum and pioneer of artificial heart valve, dies Nov. 4

Nov. 26, 2013 College News - George J. Magovern, MD, who received his medical degree from the Marquette University School of Medicine (which later became the Medical College of Wisconsin) in 1947 and revolutionized heart valve surgery, died Nov. 4 of natural causes. He was 89.

Widely recognized as one of the country's foremost cardiovascular surgeons, Dr. Magovern invented a sutureless heart valve in 1961 with the help of machinist Harry Cromie. At the time, doctors were sewing the artificial devices to the heart muscle – a procedure that took around 45 minutes and had a survival rate of around 50%. The heart valve Dr. Magovern invented clamped into place with small teeth, allowing surgeons to make a repair in two to three minutes, and almost overnight, the survival rate increased to nearly 90%.  

Other achievements for which Dr. Magovern is recognized:

  • Performed the world’s second lung transplant
  • Developed a high-volume, low-pressure endotracheal tube called the Lanz Device
  • Pioneered the use small centrifugal pumps as left/right ventricular assist devices
  • Performed the nation’s first cardiomyoplasty procedure, in which back muscle is wrapped around the heart and trained to beat
  • Developed a prototype nuclear-powered artificial heart and saphenous vein holder for use in surgery
  • Developed a nuclear powered pacemaker
  • Perfected reverse myocardial perfusion
  • Developed a medical respiratory device, which led to the development of companies such as Coratomic Pacemaker Co. and Respironics.

Dr. Magovern spent most of his career at Allegheny General Hospital (AGH) in Pittsburgh. He joined the staff there in 1959 and chaired AGH's department of surgery from 1970 to 1994 and developed the region's first trauma center.

Born and educated in New York City, Dr. Magovern trained at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, New York after World War II and finished his cardiothoracic training at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, DC in 1958.

In the late 1970's, Dr. Magovern developed the region's first trauma center using the Allegheny Life Flight system. Life Flight was the first of its kind east of the Mississippi River.

He was recognized nationally with numerous awards, including being elected President of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons in 1985. He was also an editor of the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery from 1975-1982, and was a Director of the American Board of Thoracic Surgery from 1984-1991.

Dr. Magovern was preceded in death by his wife, Margaret Ann Magovern; his son, James A. Magovern, MD; his grandson, Thomas G. O'Connor; his brother, John J. Magovern; his sister, Frances Magovern; his mother, Frances Kelly Magovern; and his father, James A. Magovern. He is survived by children, George Magovern, Jr. M.D., (Jamie), Betsy Roylance Magovern, ( late James); daughters, Mary Magovern Scott, (Robert) Susan Frances Magovern, Frances Magovern O'Connor, (Desmond), and Ann Margaret Magovern.

Additional information is available on Dr. Magovern’s Legacy obit.

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