SAN FRANCISCO — Dr. Norman Shumway, the first surgeon to perform a successful heart transplant operation in the United States, died Friday of lung cancer, a Stanford University spokeswoman said. He was 83.
Shumway died at his home in Palo Alto, spokeswoman Ruthann Richter said.
“He was a miracle worker,” said Susan Craze, who lost three of her five children to heart disease before Shumway’s team was able to save the other two in the mid-1980s. “We wouldn’t have any children if it weren’t for Dr. Shumway.”
Shumway completed the first successful U.S. adult heart transplant in 1968, but he may be best known for continuing with transplant research as many others quit.
During the 1970s, when most recipients died soon after their operations because of organ rejection or infections, many surgeons became discouraged and stopped performing transplants. But Shumway stuck with it and built a large transplant research team at Stanford that found ways to overcome rejection problems.
Shumway developed tests that enabled the use of smaller doses of dangerous rejection drugs and was one of the first transplant surgeons to begin using the safer rejection drug cyclosporine.
Ultimately, he dramatically improved survival rates for transplant recipients.
Mike Kasperak, 56, his first transplant patient, died 14 days after the 1968 operation and never left the hospital. Now, it’s common for patients to live decades.
Elizabeth Craze, who was 2 in 1984 when she became the youngest patient to survive the procedure, said she owes her life to Shumway. Now 24, she has led a normal life and played high school volleyball.
“I never felt held back,” she said.
During the early 1960s, Shumway developed a heart transplant technique on dogs that was used by Dr. Christiaan Barnard, who transplanted the first human heart in December 1967.
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In 1981, Shumway and Dr. Bruce Reitz completed the first successful heart and lung transplant in the same patient at the same time.
Sen. Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader and a heart transplant surgeon, studied under Shumway at Stanford and remembered his mentor as an “inspirational leader and guiding spirit who made heart transplants a reality.”
“When all those around him said it could never happen, his vision, his determination, his unrelenting commitment and pioneer spirit saved thousands of lives,” Frist said in a statement. “He was not only a great surgeon, but a great teacher as well, and I was fortunate to study under him.”
Shumway was born in Kalamazoo, Mich., and served in the Army from 1943 to 1946. He also served in the Air Force from 1951 to 1953.
He earned his medical degree from Vanderbilt University in 1949 and doctorate from the University of Minnesota in 1956.
He arrived at Stanford in 1958 as a surgery instructor and remained at the university for the rest of his career.
His daughter, Dr. Sara Shumway, followed him into the field of transplant surgery and teamed up with him to edit a textbook on transplantation.
Shumway was awarded numerous honorary degrees and research honors, including the American Medical Association Scientific Achievement Award in 1987.
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