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In Memoriam: Vincent Gott, Former Chief, Department of Surgery, Cardiac Surgery Division

In Memoriam: Vincent Gott, Former Chief, Department of Surgery, Cardiac Surgery Division

It is with deep regret that we share that Vincent Gott, former chief of the Department of Surgery’s cardiac surgery division, died Nov. 20 at his home in Charlottesville, Virginia. He was 93. 

A skilled researcher and gifted surgeon, Dr. Gott was considered a giant in the field of cardiac surgery. He pioneered pacemaker and heart valve designs, performed the first heart transplant operation at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and perfected innovative operational procedures for correcting congenital heart defects in patients with Marfan syndrome. He is remembered as an inspiring leader who built our cardiac surgery division into one of the premier programs in the world.

During his 55-year career at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Gott operated on patients’ hearts for four decades, and trained more than 60 cardiac surgeons — many of whom became heads of their own cardiac surgery divisions, chairs of surgery departments and national leaders in the field.

His collaboration with some of the greatest minds in medicine led to some of his extraordinary contributions. These successes included co-developing what became known as the Gott shunt, which was used — prior to the application of the heart-lung machine — for repairing thoracic aneurysms.

A native of Wichita, Kansas, Dr. Gott earned his medical degree from Yale University School of Medicine. He completed his internship and residency at the University of Minnesota Hospitals and spent much of his early career at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

While at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Gott co-developed the first pacemaker. He was the first to perform experiments proving that an electronic stimulator could jump-start the faltering hearts of cardiac surgery patients — an achievement that ultimately led to the development of modern pacemakers.

In 1965, George Zuidema, then director of the Department of Surgery, recruited Dr. Gott to come to Johns Hopkins. In 1969, the year after the first heart transplant operation was performed in the United States, Dr. Gott performed the first heart transplantation at The Johns Hopkins Hospital with one of his proteges, Harvey Bender Jr.

When cardiologist Michel Mirowski, inventor of the heart defibrillator, asked Dr. Gott to work with him on the lifesaving device’s clinical application, Dr. Gott in turn invited Levi Watkins Jr., a young heart surgeon who had been the first African American to become The Johns Hopkins Hospital’s chief resident in cardiac surgery, to take the lead. (Dr. Watkins performed the first implantation of the defibrillator in 1980 — an achievement that catapulted his career.)

Dr. Gott became an expert in employing a landmark procedure developed in 1968 to treat potentially deadly aortic aneurysms caused by Marfan syndrome. Between 1976 and 1999, 231 patients with Marfan syndrome underwent this procedure at Johns Hopkins, with Dr. Gott performing three-quarters of the operations to repair or replace the defective aorta. He became internationally renowned for his Marfan syndrome operations. 

Dr. Gott stepped down as chief of the cardiac surgery division in 1992 and retired from operating two years later. But he remained active as co-director of Johns Hopkins’ Broccoli Center for Aortic Diseases and continued seeing patients. He retired in 2008 and was appointed professor emeritus of surgery that year.

During his career, Dr. Gott served as president of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons and the American Society for Artificial Internal Organs. He received the American Medical Association’s Ludvig Hektoen Gold Medal for outstanding scientific research and the Antoine Marfan Award from the National Marfan Foundation. He also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Lillehei Heart Institute for his “seminal contributions to the development of open-heart surgery.”

Johns Hopkins is fortunate to have been Vincent Gott’s medical home for more than half a century, and his impact on the Department of Surgery remains indelible.

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