May 11, 1930: Artificial-Heart Researcher John C. Norman, Jr. Born in Charleston

May 11, 2017

Credit E-WV / WV Humanities Council

Physician John C. Norman Jr., a pioneer in artificial-heart research, was born in Charleston on May 11, 1930. His father was West Virginia’s first licensed African-American architect.

Norman was valedictorian of his class at Charleston’s Garnet High School in 1946. He went on to Harvard Medical School, graduating in 1954. As a surgeon at Boston City Hospital in the 1960s, he began researching organ transplants and, in 1967, successfully transplanted the spleen of a healthy dog into a hemophiliac dog. He also started experimenting with a battery-operated pump for heart patients.

In 1972, he moved to Houston, where he developed the first abdominal left ventricular assist device. This pump could be transplanted temporarily into patients who suffered cardiac failure after open-heart surgery. Norman also researched potential power sources and materials for artificial hearts.

For three years in the late ’80s, he returned to West Virginia as chair of the surgery department at the Marshall University School of Medicine. He then retired to Massachusetts. During his career, John C. Norman Jr. wrote more than 500 scientific papers and eight books. He died in 2014 at age 84.