In Memoriam: William W. L. Glenn, Pioneering Yale Cardiovascular Surgeon Who Developed First Radio Frequency Pacemakerd

William Wallace Lumpkin Glenn, M.D., world-renowned pioneer of cardiovascular surgery, died on March 10 at Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough, New Hampshire at age 88.

Using a pump made from parts of a child’s Erector set, Glenn and his colleague, Dr. William H. Sewell created a mechanical substitute for the heart’s function. This early artificial heart is now at the Smithsonian Museum. In 1954 Glenn was the first to use a vena cava-pulmonary artery shunt to bypass malformed hearts in the treatment of blue babies, later widely accepted as the Glenn Operation or Glenn Shunt. In 1959, he and his associates were the first to introduce the revolutionary concept of electrical stimulation by radio frequency induction into medical practice, first utilized to pace the heart and later the diaphragm (phrenic pacemaker). Glenn’s textbook, “Glenn’s Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery,” now in its 6th edition, has become the international standard text for vascular surgeons.

Born August 12, 1914 in Asheville, North Carolina, he was the son of Eugene Byron Glenn, M.D., a country doctor, and Elizabeth Lumpkin Glenn, an attorney. The youngest child of four, he was educated at Sewanee Military Academy and received a bachelor of science degree from the University of South Carolina in 1934. After earning his M.D. at Jefferson Medical School in 1938, he completed his internship at Pennsylvania Hospital and his surgical residency at Massachusetts General Hospital. While working as an assistant in research under Dr. Cecil K. Drinker at Harvard University School of Public Health, Glenn met and married Harriet Sears Amory Potter. With the onset of World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Medical Corps and set up a field hospital at Normandy.

Working in the European theatre during World War II, Glenn developed remarkable skills as an innovator of surgical technique, skills he would employ throughout the rest of his career. Following the war, he joined the faculty at Yale University School of Medicine in 1948 to serve as Chief of Cardiovascular Surgery, a specialty then in its infancy. In 1965, Glenn became Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Yale School of Medicine.

The first surgeon elected to serve as President of the American Heart Association, from 1979 to 1981, Glenn was honored by the association with a lecture established in his name.

An enthusiastic supporter of Yale Football, Glenn could be found on alternate Saturdays during the fall, trudging with his wife through the high grass fields that separated their home from the Yale Bowl. In addition to having a passionate interest in the life of Benjamin Franklin and being a collector of early American silver, Glenn also found great pleasure fly fishing for fresh water trout and playing golf.

Glenn is survived by his wife, Amory, their children, William A.L. Glenn of New York City; and Elizabeth McLelan of Dublin, New Hampshire; and four grandchildren.

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