Among many milestones throughout his distinguished career, in 1957 Dr. Magovern, working with Edward Kent, MD, a nationally recognized chest surgeon, introduced to Western Pennsylvania the very first open heart procedures using the heart-lung machine. He also partnered with a local engineer, Harry Cromie, to develop a revolutionary sutureless prosthetic aortic valve designed to shorten operative times and improve patient outcomes. Between 1957 and 1962, the mortality rate for open heart procedures at Allegheny, like several other leading centers throughout the country, was approximately 15-20%. The Magovern-Cromie sutureless prosthetic aortic valve was first used on April 13, 1962 to treat a 43 year-old woman with severe aortic insufficiency. Survival rates markedly improved with the sutureless valve implant and the promising early results with the technology were first reported in a 1963 edition of the journal Circulation. The valve, which proved to be exceptionally durable, was widely used throughout the United States well into the 1980s. In 2008, a team of Israeli surgeons encountered a perfectly functioning Magovern-Cromie aortic valve that had been place for 42 years and was believed to be the longest functioning valve ever documented.
On July 7, 1963, Dr. Magovern performed the world’s second left single lung transplant in a 44 year old man dying of emphysema. The operation was detailed in a case report published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences in 1964. In 1970, Dr. Magovern was appointed Chief of Surgery at Allegheny and over the next 25 years, thoracic and cardiovascular surgery flourished at the hospital. In 1998, at the time of his s retirement, the AGH performed more than 1,500 open heart procedures, the largest volume in Pennsylvania at that time.
The major professional organizations of cardiothoracic surgery were important to Dr. Magovern. He was President of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (1984-1985) and was among a select group to serve on the American Board of Thoracic Surgery (1984-1991). In 1980, he was named “Man of the Year” by the Pittsburgh Academy of Medicine and in 2003 he was the first recipient of the American Heart Association’s “Pulse of Pittsburgh” Award. Pittsburgh Magazine in 1999 included Dr. Magovern on its prestigious list of the “100 Most Influential Pittsburghers of the Century”.
Dr. Magovern was equally committed to the academic mission of AGH and his department, helping to inspire and train new generations of physicians and caregivers through leading residency and fellowship programs. Among those following in Dr. Magovern’s broad footprints were his two sons George J. Magovern, Jr., MD and James A. Magovern, MD, who both joined AGH as cardiothoracic surgeons in the 1980s and went on to nationally prominent careers.
After finishing his training in cardiothoracic surgery at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1985, Dr. George Magovern, Jr. performed the first heart transplant at AGH in 1987. Concomitant with the transplant program, Dr. Magovern also initiated the hospital’s mechanical cardiac assist program with the introduction of both veno arterial ECMO and insertion of an early pneumatic left ventricular assist device as a bridge to transplant. Dr. Magovern was named the first Chairman of the newly created Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery at AGH in 1998 and currently serves as the system-wide Department Chairman for Allegheny Health Network. Dr. Magovern was also privileged to serve on the American Board of Thoracic Surgery (2011-2017). He and his father are the only father-son cardiac surgeons to serve on the American Board of Thoracic Surgery since its inception in 1948. Dr. Magovern was awarded the Peter J. Safer “Pulse of Pittsburgh” Award in 2015 by the American Heart Association.
Dr. James A. Magovern’s career in cardiothoracic surgery was tragically cut short due to a battle with cancer that led to his untimely death in 2007. During his 14 years at Allegheny, however, he established a nationally recognized profile for advancing the science of cardiovascular medicine through clinical research and the development of new technologies. He authored well over 200 publications, including 127 scientific articles, 11 book chapters, and 92 abstracts. He also delivered 115 presentations at regional, national and international scientific meetings. His most significant paper, “A Model That Predicts Morbidity and Mortality After Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery”, appeared in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in 1996. Dr. Magovern was the first Division Chief for Cardiac Surgery within the newly created Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery in 1998 and was recipient of the department’s first NIH grant in 1999. He served as President of the Pennsylvania Association for Thoracic Surgery in 1999 and is now recognized each year at the annual meeting of meeting of the Eastern Cardiothoracic Surgical Society with the James A. Magovern, MD Memorial Lecture. Dr. Magovern posthumously received the American Heart Association’s Peter J. Safer “Pulse of Pittsburgh” Award in 2009.
The George J. Magovern Educational Conference Center today serves as an enduring testament to the spirit of innovation, academic excellence and exceptional medical care that has defined the Magovern family legacy, Allegheny General Hospital and its thousands of dedicated caregivers, scientists and educators for more than a century.