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 News Release - February 10, 2006

Norman Shumway, Heart Transplantation Pioneer, Dies at 83

STANFORD, Calif.--(HSMN NewsFeed)--Feb. 10, 2006--Norman E. Shumway, MD, PhD, the father of heart transplantation and one of the pre-eminent heart surgeons of his time, died this morning at his Palo Alto home of complications from cancer, the Stanford University School of Medicine announced. He celebrated his 83rd birthday the previous day on Feb. 9.

Shumway, the Frances and Charles Field Professor of Cardiovascular Surgery, Emeritus, performed the first successful human heart transplant in the United States in 1968 at Stanford. The recipient, 54-year-old steel worker Mike Kasperak, lived for 14 days.

The landmark operation created a burst of enthusiasm for heart transplantation, though cardiac surgeons quickly lost interest because of the high rate of post-surgical deaths.

Shumway nonetheless persevered in the field amid controversy over legal and economic issues, particularly the issue of what constitutes brain death among potential donors. For nearly a decade, Stanford stood virtually alone as the only center performing the pioneering operation. Shumway and his colleagues made steady progress, paving the way for a procedure considered routine today.

"Many people gave it up when they thought it was too difficult, but Dr. Shumway had the persistence and vision that it could work. His determination to make heart transplantation work was absolutely crucial," said Bruce Reitz, MD, the Norman E. Shumway Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Stanford and former chair of the department.

Nearly 60,000 patients in the United States have enjoyed longer lives because they received new hearts through transplant programs at some 150 medical centers around the country. At Stanford, some 1,240 patients have benefited from heart transplants.

Shumway, a reticent man who did not like to tout his accomplishments, told a crowd of transplant patients at a 2003 Stanford reunion that it was "gratifying to see the changes that have made this (heart transplant) an almost ordinary experience." At the reunion party, which also marked his 80th birthday, he praised the patients, saying, "You made us look good." He called them "the real heroes ... so marvelous, so strong, so courageous."

Philip Pizzo, MD, dean of Stanford School of Medicine, called Shumway "one of the 20th century's true pioneers in cardiac surgery."

"He developed one of the world's most distinguished departments of cardiothoracic surgery at Stanford, trained leaders who now guide this field throughout the world and created a record of accomplishment that few will ever rival. His impact will be long-lived and his name long-remembered," Pizzo said. "We will miss Norm Shumway and the dignity and excellence that he brought to medicine and surgery -- and to Stanford."

Shumway cherished the fact that he had trained so many of the world's leading cardiac surgeons who went on to direct departments of their own at major medical centers. His approach, contrary to the conventions of the time, was to step back from the spotlight and give his young trainees major responsibility in the operating room, greatly improving the learning experience.

"I never worked so hard in my life and never learned so much and had so much responsibility at a young age," said William Brody, MD, PhD, president of Johns Hopkins University and a Shumway trainee. "He was a brilliant teacher and a master psychologist. With his humor, he always made it fun. To be in the operating room with Shumway was the height of your day because he was brilliant and witty. At a time when everybody made cardiac surgery seem complex, he made it seem easy."

Shumway, who was born in Kalamazoo, Mich., did not start out to become a physician. He entered the University of Michigan in 1941 intending to study law but left two years later after being drafted into the Army. In the military he was given an aptitude test that asked him to check a box for a career interest: medicine or dentistry. He chose the first and was enrolled in a specialized Army program that included pre-medical training at Baylor University in Texas. He moved on to Vanderbilt University, where he received his MD in 1949.

He did his internship and residency at the University of Minnesota, where he developed an intense interest in cardiac surgery. After another two-year stint in the military, this time the Air Force, he continued his surgical training in Minnesota and obtained his PhD in cardiovascular surgery in 1956.

Shumway came to Stanford in 1958 as an instructor in surgery. Shortly after his arrival, the medical school moved from San Francisco to Palo Alto, giving Shumway the opportunity to launch the cardiovascular surgery program at the new, expanded campus.

In 1959, working with then-surgery resident Richard Lower, MD, he transplanted the heart of a dog into a 2-year-old mongrel. The transplanted dog lived eight days, proving it was technically possible to maintain blood circulation in a transplant recipient and keep the donated organ alive. Shumway and his colleagues would spend the next eight years perfecting the technique in dogs, achieving a survival rate of 60 to 70 percent.

"We started out doing this as a technical exercise and the animals began to survive," he said years later.

In 1967, he announced that he was confident enough in the research to start a clinical trial and that Stanford would perform a transplant in a human patient if a suitable donor and recipient became available. Shortly thereafter, Christiaan Barnard, MD, of South Africa performed the world's first heart transplant on a patient who lived for 18 days, using the techniques Shumway and Lower had developed.

On Jan. 6, 1968, Shumway did his landmark first procedure which -- to his chagrin -- attracted worldwide media attention, with journalists climbing the walls of the hospital to try to get a PEEK into the operating room.

Years later, Shumway said of the transplant: "We put in the heart and nothing happened. There were slow waves on the EKG and then the heart began beating stronger and then exuberance. ... We knew we would be okay."

Edward Stinson, MD, the then-chief resident in cardiac surgery who assisted Shumway, described the operation as "pretty awe-inspiring."

"After we removed the recipient's heart, we stared at the empty pericardial cavity and wondered what we'd actually done," recalled Stinson, professor emeritus of cardiothoracic surgery at Stanford. "His (Shumway's) wit always came through, no matter how challenging the circumstances. He said, 'I'm not sure. Time will tell.' We proceeded with implanting the new heart. It was pretty exciting to see it start up."

Shumway and his colleagues made steady progress over the next decade through careful selection of donors and recipients, efforts to increase the donor pool, improvements in organ preservation and in heart biopsies and advances in drugs to prevent rejection of the foreign organ, among other developments. His team was the first to introduce cyclosporine for heart transplantation in late 1980. With the availability of immunosuppressive drug, which is still in use today, the field took a giant leap forward.

In 1981, Shumway and Reitz performed the world's first successful combined heart-lung transplant in 45-year-old advertising executive Mary Gohlke, who lived five more years and wrote a book about her experiences. By the late 1980s, they were transplanting hearts into infants as well.

Shumway rose to become chief of the division of cardiothoracic surgery at Stanford in 1965 and in 1974, he negotiated the creation of a separate Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, which he chaired until his retirement in 1993.

His accomplishments were not limited to the field of transplantation. Shumway also made significant contributions to treatment of congenital heart problems in children, as well as valve problems and aneurysms in adults.

Over the years, Shumway received dozens of honors and awards. In 1980, he was named honorary president for life by the International Society of Heart and Lung Transplantation. He also has received the Scientific Achievement Award from the American Association for Thoracic Surgery, the American Surgical Association, and the American Medical Association, as well as the Trustees Medal for Distinguished Achievement from Massachusetts General Hospital, to name a few.

He is survived by his former wife, Mary Lou, of Palo Alto; four children -- Sara, Lisa, Amy and Michael; and two grandchildren. The family requests that any memorial donations be made to the Stanford University Heart Transplant Patient Care Fund, in care of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, 300 Pasteur Drive, Falk Building, Stanford, CA, 94304-5407.


Robert C. Robbins, MD, professor and chair, Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery: "Dr. Shumway was one of the most charismatic and unique individuals that I have had the privilege of knowing. His pioneering spirit touched the lives of his patients, their families, his colleagues, trainees, friends and family. He enjoyed life and it was a great fun to simply be around him on a daily basis. His dedication to thoracic transplantation is one of the most remarkable examples of translational research that has led to the improvement of the health of generations of patients. His humility was impressive, given all that he accomplished, and he will be sadly missed by so many people -- especially the cardiothoracic surgeons who were fortunate enough to be trained by the Boss."

Corie Crowe, 21, received a heart transplant at Stanford at age 3. She made it to adulthood with her first transplanted heart: "I am alive today because of Dr. Shumway. I know how much his research helped pave the way for me and others. I was among the first kids to receive a heart transplant, and I do not take it for granted. I can honestly say I thank him with every beat of my heart."

Marguerite Brown, RN, administrative director for the transplant center at Stanford and a colleague for 30 years: "He really deflected the credit to everyone else. He made everybody he encountered feel that they mattered and were very special. No matter what your station in life, he made you feel like your contribution was critical -- his trainees, his colleagues, his staff."

Edward Stinson, MD, professor emeritus of cardiothoracic surgery at Stanford: "I would say he's one of the most inspirational individuals I've ever met -- not only intellectually but in terms of his spiritual approach to the whole field. That's of extraordinary importance to young people who came into contact with him. He was a spiritual father to all of the residents and especially to those who stayed on -- the faculty like myself."

William R. Brody, MD, PhD, president of Johns Hopkins University and a Shumway trainee: "He persevered, and I give him credit for it because a lot of people would have stopped. He was a brilliant man. He was a contrarian. He didn't like the limelight. And probably the most remarkable thing was the amount of responsibility he gave young people, and the results proved him right. ... The things I've learned from him I've carried forward in life: like don't read what's in the journals because you only learn what's not possible; the ideas of giving people responsibility and holding them accountable, and the idea of making complicated processes simple."

Martha Marsh, president and CEO of Stanford Hospital & Clinics: "The far-reaching effect of Dr. Shumway's enormous contribution to cardiac care is felt every day at Stanford Hospital & Clinics, and throughout the world. Whenever a patient is given a new chance at life through heart transplantation, we owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Shumway for his vision, skill and compassion. The many surgeons whom Dr. Shumway trained throughout his long career will continue his work. At Stanford Hospital & Clinics we are proud to be the guardian of this distinguished legacy."

Bruce Reitz, MD, the Norman E. Shumway Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Stanford and former chair of the department: "It was his ability to let other people shine and not take the spotlight. I think that is why so many are sad -- because it's the end of an era."

Pat Gamberg, RN, transplant coordinator at Stanford and longtime colleague: "When I first started working in 1972, he would make a point of coming by my desk, just to make me feel welcome. He did that over the course of months. It really made me feel like I was a valuable member of the team. ... He would always introduce someone as a valuable member of the team."

Mary Burge, clinical social worker on the heart transplant team and a colleague for 25 years: "One thing I'm sure everybody will say is how incredibly generous he was with his knowledge and how encouraging he was of other surgeons, other people on the transplant team and how he was willing to teach people whatever he knew. I remember being extremely moved at the retirement party dinner for him when the people in the audience were asked, 'If you are a surgeon trained by Dr. Shumway to stand and come forward.' It felt to me as if 100 people -- maybe half the room -- stood up and moved to the front. I remember feeling so privileged to have been a part of this program that he started."

Joan Miller, RN, transplant nurse coordinator at Stanford: "He made it look effortless. He will never take credit for what he's done. He's incredibly loyal and attached to the surgeons he worked with early on."

Stanford University Medical Center integrates research, medical education and patient care at its three institutions -- Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. For more information, please visit the Web site of the medical center's Office of Communication & Public Affairs at

Source: Stanford University Medical Center

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