Obituary: Dr. James Anthony Magovern / Nationally known heart surgeon

June 8, 1954 - March 17, 2007

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One of Pittsburgh's foremost surgeons and a nationally known expert in the field of cardiothoracic surgery died of kidney cancer Saturday at his home in Fox Chapel.

Dr. James Anthony Magovern, 52, was the chief of cardiac surgery at Allegheny General Hospital. He also served as the director of cardiac surgery research at the hospital and was surgical director of the Gerald R. McGinnis Cardiovascular Institute at AGH.

"He was a terrific surgeon and a very gifted physician," said his older brother, Dr. George J. Magovern Jr., 55, of Sewickley, also a cardiothoracic surgeon at AGH. The brothers are the sons of cardiothoracic surgery pioneer Dr. George J. Magovern of Fox Chapel.

James Magovern was born at a military hospital in San Antonio, Texas, when his father was serving as a doctor at Fort Sam Houston during the Korean War.

Dr. Magovern graduated from Shady Side Academy in 1972 and from Harvard University in 1976. He received his medical degree in 1980 from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

He had post-graduate training as an intern and a resident in general surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, then as a resident and later chief resident and instructor in general surgery in the College of Medicine at Pennsylvania State University.

He then served a residency in cardiothoracic surgery at Penn State, where he had been honored as a post-doctoral research fellow in cardiothoracic surgery at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

In addition to his work in the hospital, he shared his expertise with others as a professor of cardiothoracic surgery at the Allegheny campus of Drexel University College of Medicine; by training more than 30 resident physicians in cardiothoracic surgery; by authoring more than 120 medical articles, 11 book chapters and 92 abstracts; and by delivering more than 100 oral presentations. In 2003, he was honored by AGH cardiothoracic surgery residents with a "best teacher" award.

He was a noted researcher, as well. He had been serving as the principal investigator since 2000 on a National Institutes of Health grant studying the cardiomyoplasty left ventricular device. He participated in more than 20 national and regional medical trials and held 17 patents in devices related to cardiothoracic surgery.

His concern for good health carried over into his personal life. He was active with the Walk to Win program at Allegheny Traditional Academy, the Hearts in the Park community walks on the North Side and the American Heart Association.

He held membership in a number of professional societies, including the American Association for Thoracic Surgery, the Society for Thoracic Surgeons, and the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation.

Though he had a rich professional life, he made time for his family.

"He was a wonderful father," said his brother. He spent vacation time with his family in Stone Harbor, N.J., was a member of the Fox Chapel Golf Club and the Rolling Rock Club, and enjoyed tending his vegetable garden. He golfed when he could, enjoyed running and was an accomplished fly fisherman.

He has received numerous awards, distinctions and honors over the years. He was particularly proud of having served as president of Alpha Omega Alpha at Pitt's School of Medicine.

His brother said they seemed to inherit a love for medicine from their father and found the ever-growing field of cardiothoracic surgery exciting as they attended medical school together.

"We were very close to our father. We respected him and wanted to continue in his footsteps," said Dr. Magovern. He noted that his brother's daughter, Megan, is in medical school.

He said his brother was reserved and highly intelligent but was also loving and athletic. He was diagnosed with kidney cancer three years ago and accepted his illness "stoically and without bitterness or anger."

In addition to his parents and brother, he is survived by his wife, Betsy R. Magovern; children Paul, Megan, Charlie and Molly Magovern, all at home in Fox Chapel; and four sisters, Mary M. Scott of Fox Chapel, Susan Magovern of Millbrook, N.Y., Frances O'Connor of Hampton, and Ann Magovern of Oakland, Calif.

Friends will be received from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. today and tomorrow at John A. Freyvogel Sons Funeral Home, 4900 Centre Avenue at Devonshire Street, Oakland.

A Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Wednesday in St. Scholastica Church on Brilliant Avenue in Aspinwall. Interment will be private.

The family suggests memorial contributions to the Gerald R. McGinnis Cardiovascular Institute at AGH, 320 E. North Ave., Pittsburgh 15212.

Denis Poroy photo
From left: Dr. James A. Magovern, with his father Dr. George J. Magovern Sr. and brother Dr. George J. Magovern Jr.
Click photo for larger image.

Karen Kane can be reached at kkane@post-gazette.com or 724-772-9180.


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