Dr. George J. Magovern
Co-inventor of heart
valve that saved lives
Dr. George J. Magovern, 89, heart surgeon and co-inventor of an artificial valve that marked a key advance in open heart surgeries, died at home in Fox Chapel, Pa., a suburb of Pittsburgh, on Monday, according to his son, George Jr. He had been in failing health for some time, his son said, and died in his sleep.
Open heart surgery was in its infancy in 1962, when Magovern first implanted a self-sealing heart valve in a patient, saving precious time during an operation. "It was a fantastic advance," said Bartley Griffith, professor of surgery at the University of Maryland. "In those days, you had only maybe a half-hour to do the procedure. Sewing in an aortic valve could take longer than that."
As a result, many patients died.
Magovern had an idea for a valve that could be quickly secured to the heart with a series of tiny metal hooks instead of sutures. He went looking for someone who could make the device. "There was a metal shop he used to pass by on his way home from work," said his son. "One day, my father knocked on the door, told the man his idea."
He and the machinist, Harry Cromie, worked on the device for about two years before the first use of what came to be called the Magovern-Cromie valve. "It cut the time down to five minutes," Griffith said, saving lives.
The valve was still being implanted by surgeons into the 1970s, said Magovern Jr., who is also a surgeon.
A 2008 article in the medical journal Circulation said physicians in Israel examined a 65-year-old patient and discovered he had a "perfectly functioning" Magovern-Cromie valve that had been in place for 42 years. The article said the device was believed to be the "longest functioning prosthetic valve of any kind documented."
George Jerome Magovern was born in New York on Nov. 17, 1923. He earned his medical degree from Marquette University and began practicing in Pittsburgh in 1958.
In addition to the valve, he invented several other medical devices during his career, sometimes developing them on his own initiative before increased regulatory oversight made that more difficult.
"He was part pioneer, part cowboy," Griffith said. "We don't have many of these kind of luminaries any more."
Times staff and wire reportsCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun