Mending hearts: Dr. Magovern had a healing effect on Pittsburgh

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In a family of accomplished physicians you have to be special to stand out, and George J. Magovern Sr. was. Not only was he a doctor -- he was a medical pioneer.

The renown cardiothoracic surgeon died last week at 89 after spending a career at Allegheny General Hospital winning accolades for his skill, his institution and his city as a destination for world-class care.

Dr. Magovern developed the first sutureless heart valve, completed the world's second lung transplant at UPMC Presbyterian in 1963 and performed AGH's first heart transplant in 1969. By the late '90s, under his leadership, AGH had the largest heart program in the state and the 10th largest in the country.

One of at least six physicians in his family, Dr. Magovern also developed the Allegheny Life Flight system, a heart bypass procedure for treating aortic injuries in car accident victims and the first successful biventricular heart device. He had so many ideas for medical inventions that he helped launch Respironics Inc., the health care device company.

In 2003, prior to receiving an award from the American Heart Association, he told the Post-Gazette, "You have to invent things, because what was happening was terrible. People were dying, and it was hard to stand there and not do something."

But Dr. Magovern's talents reached beyond the operating room and the laboratory. He was an administrator and a mentor -- as chairman of surgery at Allegheny General and president of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, the largest group of cardiac surgeons in the world. His son George Jr. is also a cardiothoracic surgeon, as was his late son James.

In a career that spanned five decades, George J. Magovern Sr. left his mark on countless Pittsburghers. By touching their hearts, he extended their lives.

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