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Death Notice Guestbook

Obituary: Herbert Warden / Pioneering heart surgeon and WVU team physician

Thursday, January 17, 2002

By Paul Zeise, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Dr. Herbert Warden, a cardiothoracic surgeon and pioneer in the field of open heart surgery, died Monday of heart failure at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, W.Va. He was 81.

Dr. Warden was the longtime team physician for the West Virginia University Mountaineers football team, but he made his mark as a surgeon in 1954 when, as a member of a surgical team at the University of Minnesota, he helped perform the world's first successful complex open heart surgery.

Two years earlier, Dr. F. John Lewis had performed the world's first open heart procedure, but because he had no effective means of supporting his patient's circulation during the procedure, he could only repair minor defects.

In 1954, however, a team which included Dr. Warden, Lewis and five other doctors developed a system called cross-circulation. It used a blood-matched donor to serve as the equivalent of a heart-lung machine for the patient during the procedure. As a result of his work, Dr. Warden received the American Public Health Association's top prize, the Albert and Mary Lasker Award for Medical Research, from President Eisenhower in 1955.

This method was a breakthrough in safe cardiopulmonary bypass during open heart surgery because it enabled the team to achieve a number of firsts in the repair of lesions, including holes in between the chambers of the heart and a congenital heart condition called the Tetralogy of Fallot, comprising four anatomic abnormalities.

In 1960, Dr. Warden joined the faculty at West Virginia University and established the school's heart surgery and surgical training programs. In 1962, he led the team which performed the first open heart surgery in the state of West Virginia.

He became a WVU team physician in 1968 and served in that capacity through the 2001 season. From 1972 until 1979, he was chairman of the WVU Athletic Council.

Don Nehlen, the Mountaineers' football coach from 1980 to 2000, said of Dr. Warden: "He wasn't the primary physician for the team, because he was a heart specialist, but he did a lot to upgrade our physical testing and help us monitor the physical fitness of the players. And it was awful reassuring to know we had a guy with his ability on the sidelines every week. He touched my family personally because my wife [Merry Ann] had two heart attacks, and the first one really scared her, but he was right there through it all and really took care of her."

Dr. Warden was born in Cleveland. He earned a bachelor's degree in 1942 from Washington and Jefferson College, where he was a standout football player. He studied medicine at the University of Chicago and completed his residency at the University of Minnesota.

He is survived by his wife, Audrey Flaten Warden; two daughters, Karen E. Warden of Chesterland, Ohio, and Suzanne E. Allan of Manassas, Va.; two sons, Dr. Bradford E. Warden of Morgantown and Douglas E. Warden of Detroit; and five grandchildren.

Visitation will be at Hastings Funeral Home in Morgantown from 3 to 5 and 7 to 9 p.m. today. The funeral is scheduled at Suncrest United Methodist Church in Morgantown at 1 p.m. tomorrow. Interment will follow at East Oak Grove Cemetery.



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