U.S. heart surgery pioneer Shumway dies in Calif
By Adam Tanner
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Norman Shumway, who performed the
first U.S. heart transplant, died on Friday a day after his
83rd birthday from complications related to cancer, Stanford
South African Christiaan Barnard performed the world’s
first human heart transplant in Cape Town in December 1967, but
the patient lived for only 18 days. Shumway undertook the first
U.S. heart transplant in a 54-year-old steelworker just a few
weeks later in 1968. His patient survived two weeks.
Most early heart transplant patients did not live long, as
their bodies eventually rejected the new hearts or became
infected. During the 1970s, Shumway, who had earlier performed
dog heart transplants, was credited with developing new
techniques to lower the chance of rejection, sharply improving
transplant survival rates.
According to Stanford, Shumway oversaw more than 800
transplants between 1974 and 1992.
“It was the comprehensive, systematic approach to
addressing a medical challenge which everybody thought was
impossible,” U.S. Senate Majority leader Bill Frist, a doctor
who studied heart surgery under Shumway, told Reuters on
“His perseverance and his persistence, coupled with his
disciplined scientific approach is what made it a reality,” the
Tennessee Republican said.
Born in Michigan in 1923, Shumway received his medical
degree from Vanderbilt University in 1949 and a Ph.D. from the
University of Minnesota in 1956. He served in the U.S. Army
during World War Two and the Air Force during the Korean War.
Shumway began a nearly half-century association with
Stanford University in 1958, working initially as an instructor
in surgery, teaching many who became leading names in the
field. Most recently, he was an emeritus professor in
“He was my most significant mentor in life, which includes
my life in politics, in public service and in medicine,” Frist
said in an interview.
Citing Shumway’s mantra of “conceive it, believe it, do
it,” Frist added, “It has been sort of the guiding philosophy
of my life.”
Sara Shumway, one of his four children, followed his
footsteps into heart surgery, and together they wrote a major
textbook on heart and lung transplants.
The surgeon died at home in Palo Alto, south of San