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Dr. Vincent L. Gott, retired Johns Hopkins chief of cardiac surgery and a heart pioneer, dies

Dr. Vincent L. Gott was the first to perform experiments proving that an electronic stimulator could jump-start the heartbeats of patients.
Dr. Vincent L. Gott was the first to perform experiments proving that an electronic stimulator could jump-start the heartbeats of patients. (Handout / HANDOUT)

Dr. Vincent L. Gott, a former Johns Hopkins chief of the cardiac surgery recalled as a soft-spoken, humble man who was also a gifted medical artist, died of heart failure Nov. 20 at Westminster-Canterbury of the Blue Ridge in Charlottesville, Virginia. The former Guilford resident was 93.

Hopkins colleagues said Dr. Gott was a pioneer in the field of cardiac surgery.

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“He was the first to perform experiments proving that an electronic stimulator could jump-start the heartbeats of patients, a discovery that led to the development of modern pacemakers, which he also had a hand in creating,” said a statement from the medical institution. “He revolutionized heart valve designs, performed the first heart transplant operation at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and perfected operational procedures for correcting congenital heart defects in patients with Marfan syndrome.”

The statement also said, “His leadership helped transform the School of Medicine’s cardiac surgery division into one of the premier programs in the world.”

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Born in Wichita, Kansas, he was the son of Henry Gott, an attorney and his wife, Helen, a homemaker. He received his medical degree from Yale University School of Medicine and while an intern at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Gott was invited to observe surgeon C. Walton Lillehei, often considered the “father of open-heart surgery,” as he repaired a congenital heart defect.

Dr. Vincent L. Gott joined Johns Hopkins in 1965 as an associate professor of surgery for the School of Medicine and cardiac surgeon-in-charge for the Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Dr. Vincent L. Gott joined Johns Hopkins in 1965 as an associate professor of surgery for the School of Medicine and cardiac surgeon-in-charge for the Johns Hopkins Hospital. (Handout / HANDOUT)

“Dr. Gott later sketched an operative procedural drawing of the surgery and added it to the patient’s record,” said his Johns Hopkins biography. “The skill and detail of the sketch so impressed Lillehei that he invited Gott to join his research laboratory.”

He met his future wife, Iveagh Foreman while they were studying at the University of Minnesota.

Dr. Gott joined Johns Hopkins in 1965 as an associate professor of surgery for the School of Medicine and cardiac surgeon-in-charge for the Johns Hopkins Hospital. He served as chief cardiac surgeon until 1982 and retired from performing operations in 1994.

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The Johns Hopkins biography also said he remained active as co-director of the Broccoli Center for Aortic Diseases and continued seeing patients. The center was named for one of his heart patients, Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, the producer of numerous James Bond films and a friend of author Ian Fleming. Dr. Gott retired in 2008.

“He was just an amazing guy,” said a colleague, Dr. William A. Baumgartner. “He was a humble and compassionate man. He was beloved by everyone at Hopkins, down to the security guards who saw the warm side of him. He was affectionate and a bit of a character, too. The strongest language he ever used was gosh or by golly in the operating room.”

“He did not broadcast his achievements, although they were many,” said retired cardiologist Dr. Stephen C. Achuff, who worked alongside Dr. Gott for several decades. “He always said ‘we.’ He never said ‘I.’

“Every year we had a Halloween party and Dr. Gott came as Abraham Lincoln. He was perfect — had a square jaw and rough-hewn face. He was all about graciousness and humility.”

Dr. Gott’s generosity extended to his family. He once took care of one of his son’s morning newspaper routes personally when the young man was sick.

“Dr. Gott did the whole paper route in Guilford,” Dr. Achuff said.

Dr. Gott spent more than 50 years on the faculty at Johns Hopkins and trained more than 60 cardiac surgeons. He was recalled as a devoted mentor who found opportunities for his trainees and younger colleagues to establish themselves.

A Hopkins statement said Dr. Gott collaborated with Sinai Hospital physician Dr. Michel Mirowski on the creation and testing of an automatic implantable cardioverter-defibrillator.

Dr. Gott declined to perform a landmark surgery that would be the first to implant the device permanently in a patient.

“Instead, he invited a young doctor who had graduated from his surgical training just a few months prior to perform the procedure. His name was Levi Watkins Jr., and he would go on to have an internationally celebrated career as a leading cardiac surgeon in his own right,” said the Hopkins statement.

“It was a prime example of how he pushed his trainees,” Dr. Achuff said. “It was also typical of his modesty.”

Hopkins colleagues said Dr. Gott developed the Gott shunt used before the application of the heart-lung machine for the repair of thoracic aneurysms.

“He was pivotal in developing early prototypes of the modern pacemaker, and was even invited to purchase shares of the fledgling Medtronic company, which was founded as a result of his experiments and research,” said a Hopkins statement. “The company is now among the world’s largest medical device manufacturers.”

“My father was fearless,” said his daughter, Deborah Keenum of Murphy, North Carolina. “He was driving home one night and a man shot out the driver’s window in his car. My father got out, went up the steps of the house where the shot was fired from and confronted the shooter. My father never called the police.”

She also said, “On another occasion he stopped his car on Calvert Street to try to break up a domestic squabble.”

Dr. Gott climbed the Grand Tetons and climbed to the Mount Everest base camp.

“He was an outdoorsy guy,” said his daughter. “He was not an expert and he just enjoyed this. It was just for fun.”

In the decades before electronic medical records, Dr. Gott was known to keep index cards of all his patients and notes from their operations for his own records, as well as hand-drawn sketches of their blood vessels.

The Vincent L. Gott Professorship was endowed in 2000 with funds provided by his friends and patients.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his wife of 66 years, Iveagh Foreman, a nutritionist who taught nutrition and wellness at the Baltimore City Community College; two sons, Kevin Gott of Auburn, Maine, and Cameron Gott of Charlottesville, Virginia; and five grandchildren.

A virtual service will be held at 3 p.m. Jan. 16 at https://wc-br.org/live.

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