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George J. Magovern, Sr., MD

On Monday, November 4, 2013, one of Pittsburgh’s foremost and nationally known heart surgeons died at the age of 89. A pioneering physician who is widely recognized as one of the country’s foremost cardiovascular surgeons, Dr. Magovern joined the medical staff of Allegheny General Hospital in 1959. He served as Chair of the Department of Surgery from 1970 to 1994. During his distinguished career at Allegheny, he established the hospital’s legacy, which continues today, as a leading center for the treatment of cardiovascular disease.

Born and educated in New York City, Dr. Magovern trained at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, New York after World War II and finished his cardiothoracic training at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, DC in 1958. He was recruited to Pittsburgh by Dr. Edward Kent to develop open heart surgery in Pittsburgh, which at the time was in its infancy. Dr. Magovern was known not only as an excellent surgeon, but also as an innovator. In 1962, he implanted at Allegheny the country’s first sutureless heart valve called the Magovern-Cromie Heart Valve. The sutureless valve dramatically reduced the time needed to perform the open heart procedures and as a result dramatically improved patient outcomes. Interestingly enough, he also performed the world’s second lung transplant at UPMC Presbyterian in 1963.

George J. Magovern, Sr., MDIn the early 1970’s, working with Dr. Frank Begg, Dr. Magovern began performing coronary artery bypass surgery for the treatment of coronary artery disease. Because of his success, the Allegheny heart program grew exponentially and by 1998, Allegheny was the largest open heart program in Pennsylvania and the tenth largest in the United States.

In the late 1970’s, Dr. Magovern as department chair, developed the region’s first trauma center using the Allegheny LifeFlight system. LifeFlight was the first of its kind east of the Mississippi River. The LifeFlight Trauma program led to Allegheny becoming a tertiary referral center for the tri-state area from Youngstown, OH, to Erie, PA, to Johnstown, PA, and to Morgantown, WV. With a growing referral of heart failure patients, Dr. Magovern pioneered the use of a biomedicus centrifugal left heart bypass system for the treatment of traumatic aortic injury as a consequence of motor vehicle accidents.

He was recognized nationally with numerous awards, the most notable of which was being elected President of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons in 1985. He was also an editor of the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery from 1975 to 1982. As well, he was a Director of the American Board of Thoracic Surgery from 1984 through 1991.

Because Dr. Magovern founded one of the earliest thoracic surgery residencies dating back into the late 1950’s, he was a founding member of the Thoracic Surgery Program Directors Association and a member of the Residency Review Committee for Thoracic Surgery from 1988 to 1992.

In Western Pennsylvania, he was honored as early as 1980 by the Pittsburgh Academy of Medicine as “Man of the Year”. His long-time friend, Sir Anthony J. O’Reilly, former Chairman of the Heinz Company, recognized him in 1992 with the Chairman’s award for the American Ireland Fund. He subsequently received the Pennsylvania Medical Society “Distinguished Service Award” in 1993. The same year he was also recognized by the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania with the “History Maker’s Award”. In 1999, Pittsburgh Magazine recognized Dr. Magovern as one of the “100 Most Influential Pittsburghers of the Century”. A year later, the Pittsburgh Business Times awarded him the “Lifetime Achievement Award”. In 2003, he was the first recipient of the American George J. Magovern, Sr., MDHeart Association’s “Pulse of Pittsburgh” award. Finally in 2008, he received a “Medal of Innovation” award from the Senator John Heinz History Center. His career was featured at the Heinz Center in its innovation exhibit in 2008.

As an entrepreneur and philanthropist, Dr. Magovern started several successful companies, the most notable of which was the Respironics Company which he co-founded with Gerald R. McGinnis. He was philanthropic to many organizations, the most notable which were, Allegheny General Hospital and Shadyside Academy.

Dr. Magovern was preceded in death by his wife, Margaret Ann Magovern, his son, James A. Magovern, MD, his grandson Thomas G. O’Connor, his brother John J. Magovern, his sister Frances Magovern, his mother Frances Kelly Magovern, and his father James A. Magovern. He is also survived by children, George Magovern, Jr. MD, (Jamie), Betsy Roylance Magovern, (James), daughters Mary Magovern Scott, (Robert) Susan Frances Magovern, Frances Magovern O’Connor, (Desmond), and Ann Margaret Magovern. He is survived by fourteen grandchildren, George III, Abigail, and Anne Magovern, Paul, Megan, Charles, and Molly Magovern, Patrick, Brendan, Peter, and Margaret Scott, and Matthew, Ronan, and Colm O’Connor.

A Christian Burial Mass will be held on Saturday, November 9 at 10:00am at Saint Scholastica Church in Aspinwall.

The family requests any memorial contributions be made to the Allegheny Heart Institute, 320 East North Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.