William Glenn, 88; Heart Surgeon, Researcher

From Associated Press

Dr. William Wallace Lumpkin Glenn, a Yale University heart surgeon who helped develop pacemakers and other innovations in cardiovascular surgery, has died. He was 88.

Glenn died of complications from pneumonia March 10 at Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough, N.H., university officials said.

In 1959, Glenn and his associates became the first to use electrical stimulation by radio frequency to help the heart beat, and later to help the diaphragm contract. The research led to the development of pacemakers.

In 1950, he and a colleague, Dr. William H. Sewell, created an early artificial heart that is now at the Smithsonian Institution.


Glenn used the device, made from inexpensive materials, including a child’s Erector Set and glass tubes, to divert blood flow from a dog’s heart for about an hour.

“He loved to tinker with things. A lot of his inventions he tried out at home,” said his son, William A.L. Glenn of New York City.

In 1954, Glenn developed a shunt to bypass malformed hearts in oxygen-deprived babies, a procedure that became widely accepted.

A textbook he wrote, “Glenn’s Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery,” remains the standard text for vascular surgeons.

Glenn started teaching at the Yale University School of Medicine in 1948 as chief of cardiovascular surgery. He became the chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Yale in 1965.

He was the first surgeon to be elected president of the American Heart Assn., serving from 1979 to 1981.

Glenn was born Aug. 12, 1914, in Asheville, N.C. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina and his medical degree from Jefferson Medical School. During World War II, he enlisted in the Army Medical Corps, where he honed his skills and developed surgical techniques.

In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife, Amory; a daughter, Elizabeth McLelan; and four grandchildren.