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Donald Ross, DSc, FRCS, 1922 to 2014

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

In Memoriam: Mr. Donald Nixon Ross, DSc, FRCS 
October 4, 1922 to July 7, 2014

We are deeply saddened by the loss of our great teacher Donald Ross, a truly global mentor in cardiac surgery, a friend, a respectful colleague, an admirer, and custodian of our profession, who passed away on July 7, 2014.

On behalf of the community of cardiac surgeons, I would like to share our sincere condolences and deepest sympathy during this time of grief with Barbara Ross and the family.

Donald Ross was born of Scottish parents on October 4, 1922 in Kimberley, Republic of South Africa, and was a fellow student of Christiaan Barnard at the University of Cape Town. After completion of his medical school training, he came to the United Kingdom in 1947 to pursue his cardiothoracic surgical career. He was appointed as the senior registrar in the Department of Thoracic Surgery at the University Hospital, Bristol, in 1952 and at the Guy’s Hospital, London in 1954. He took the position of consultant cardiothoracic surgeon at the Guy’s Hospital in 1958 and at the National Heart Hospital in 1963, and subsequently became a senior surgeon in 1967. He was appointed as the Director of the Department of Surgery, Institute of Cardiology, London, in 1970 and retired in 1997 from there.

Many surgeons came to London to learn the artistry of Donald Ross’s pioneering reconstructive surgery of the aortic root using the aortic homograft and the pulmonary autograft (the eponymous “Ross Procedure”), as well as that of the right ventricular outflow tract during his times at the National Heart Hospital, the Harley Street Clinic, and the Italian Hospital. I first met him in 1975 during my pediatric cardiac surgery training at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street. Later, it was a great privilege and honor to be invited by the European Association for Cardio-Thoracic Surgery (EACTS) to comment on the paper of this great surgeon entitled “The pulmonary autograft—a permanent aortic valve” during the 5th annual meeting in London in September 1991.

Donald Ross epitomized biological aortic root surgery following the credo that since God created the aortic root as nonthrombogenic and nonobstructive anatomic units, the relationship between its morphology and function should be maintained to allow an unimpeded physiological blood flow. He has reigned as a caretaker of “reconstructive surgery of the left and right ventricular outflow tracts” and served it admirably in his unpretentious, dignified but very effective way.

Donald Ross also paved the way for heart transplantation in Britain. He performed the first operation of this kind in Britain on May 3, 1968, at the National Heart Hospital, closely following the world’s first heart transplantation by Christiaan Barnard in Cape Town on December 3, 1967.

For many colleagues who experienced his utterly honest and forthright ways during his reign as a global champion in cardiac surgery and as a teacher, he has made an indelible mark and won an undying respect. He set a shining example of the kind of unconditional passion required to see a cardiac surgery profession through good times and bad.

This tribute is republished with the permission of The Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgeon

Click here to view personal remembrances of Donald Ross. Please feel free to add a memory to the comment section. 

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