Dr Jeremy Swan

Co-inventor of the Swan-Ganz heart catheter
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The Independent Online

Jeremy Swan was a world-renowned cardiologist and the co-inventor in 1968 of the Swan-Ganz heart catheter. His invention, made with a student of his called Willie Ganz, revolutionised heart surgery. The catheter, which is still used today, enabled bedside monitoring in critically ill patients by measuring heart output and capillary pressure in the lungs. This improved the care of patients with heart attacks, serious burns, acute respiratory failure and many other conditions.

Harold James Charles ("Jeremy") Swan, cardiologist: born Sligo 1 June 1922; Physiology Lecturer, St Thomas' Hospital Medical School 1948-51; Research Associate, then Consultant Cardiologist, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota 1951-65; Director of Cardiology, Cedars of Lebanon Hospital (later Cedars-Sinai Medical Center), Los Angeles 1965-87 (Emeritus); Professor of Medicine (Cardiology), University of California Los Angeles 1965-87; married first Pamela Skeet (two sons, four daughters, and one daughter deceased; marriage dissolved), second 1973 Roma Shahbaghlian; died Los Angeles 7 February 2005.

Jeremy Swan was a world-renowned cardiologist and the co-inventor in 1968 of the Swan-Ganz heart catheter. His invention, made with a student of his called Willie Ganz, revolutionised heart surgery. The catheter, which is still used today, enabled bedside monitoring in critically ill patients by measuring heart output and capillary pressure in the lungs. This improved the care of patients with heart attacks, serious burns, acute respiratory failure and many other conditions.

Swan was born in Sligo in Ireland, the son of two general practitioners. From Castle Knock School he went to St Vincent's College, Dublin. His studies were soon interrupted by meningitis and he lapsed into a coma, to be saved by the timely intervention of his mother, who gave him sulfa drugs, the only antibiotic that existed in those pre-penicillin days. He recovered, both as a scholar and as an athlete (he was a middleweight boxer) and went to St Thomas' Hospital Medical School in London. By the time he qualified in 1945, he was regarded by his fellow students as a genius.

After six months as a casualty surgeon, he did two years' war service with the RAF, mainly at a service hospital in Iraq. Returning to St Thomas', he spent three years as physiology lecturer and was awarded a PhD for his early work on cardiac catheterisation and pharmacology, researching under Henry Barcroft.

Swan soon joined the brain drain, taking a research fellowship in 1951 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota with Dr Earl Wood, a leading heart physiologist. Here he took his skills into the cardiac catheterisation laboratory, where he defined the problems of congenital heart disease, and developed techniques for measuring heart output and detecting shunts between the two sides of the heart.

He established a reputation as an innovative and prolific research scientist and clinician, and during this period published over 100 papers. Not surprisingly, he was courted by other hospitals and universities, and colleagues were surprised when in 1965 he chose the little-known Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, now the acclaimed Cedars-Sinai Hospital, in Los Angeles, a non-profit-making establishment in Los Angeles. He stayed there for 22 years, publishing another 300 papers covering all aspects of cardiology, including in 1968 a description of the device that bears his name. The idea, he said, came from watching the sail of a boat on Santa Monica Bay.

His many awards and distinctions included the Walter Dixon Memorial Medal of the British Medical Association, and an honorary doctorate from Trinity College Dublin in 1996. He made regular visits to Trinity, and there is a fund in his name there for teaching medical ethics.

After retirement Swan moved to Pasadena, where he maintained his interest in medicine and medical ethics, and continued to give invited lectures. He had the Irish way with words, an Irish wit, and occasionally an Irish temper.

In 2001, he suffered a stroke but remained, according to his second wife, Roma, "strong, courageous and gallant". He died in his own hospital, from complications following a heart attack.

Caroline Richmond

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