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Biographical entry Shumway, Norman (1923 - 2006)

Hon FRCS 1980; MD Vanderbilt 1949.

9 February 1923
Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA
10 February 2006
Transplant surgeon


Norman Shumway was the father of cardiac transplantation and performed the world’s first heart-lung transplant. Unlike some of his contemporaries who sought the limelight, Shumway spent a decade carrying out research into cardiac transplantation before he was ready to do the operation on a live recipient. It was ironic that he was scooped by his pupil, Christiaan Barnard, in 1967.

Born on 9 February 1923 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where his father kept a creamery, Shumway enrolled at Michigan University to study law. He was then drafted into the Army, where he was found to have an aptitude for medicine, and was sent off to Vanderbilt University, Tennessee, where he qualified in 1949. At first he set up in private surgical practice in a cottage hospital in Santa Barbara, but was invited to join Owen Wangensteen’s research programme at Minnesota. There he gained a PhD for his work on the effect of cooling on the electrical activity of the heart. His work was interrupted by two years in the US Air Force, after which he moved to Stanford University in California, where he started his work on transplantation. He became chief of cardiothoracic surgery there in 1965.

While others enjoyed the brief publicity of carrying out cardiac transplantation, which was soon followed by notoriety as rejection almost inevitably took place, Shumway quietly spent his time methodically trying to improve the selection of donors, organ preservation, the technique of heart biopsy and the development of anti-rejection drugs. He was one of the first to use cyclosporine. By 1991 his department had performed nearly 700 transplants with 80 per cent survival for more than five years.

A modest man, dressed scruffily, and driving a battered old car, he trained cardiac surgeons from all over the world, He published extensively and received innumerable honours, including our FRCS.

Divorced from Mary Lou Stuurmans in 1951, he leaves a son and three daughters, one of whom, Sara, is a professor of cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Minnesota. He died from lung cancer on 10 February 2006.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Guardian 16 February 2006; The Times 17 March 2006; BMJ 2006 332 553].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England