William C. DeVries Oral History Interview, August 20, 2019

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DeVries, William C. (William Castle), 1943- and Duke University. Medical Center. Department of Surgery.
Dr. William C. DeVries, MD (1943- ) is a cardiothoracic surgeon, known for the first transplant of a total artificial heart (TAH) using the Jarvik-7 model. DeVries completed his surgical residency at Duke, where he trained under Dr. David. C. Sabiston. This collection contains 1 oral history interview conducted on August 20, 2019 by Emily Stewart as part of the Dr. David Sabiston Oral History Project. In the interview, DeVries discusses his education, work at the University of Utah School of Medicine with Dr. Willem Kolff on the artificial heart, his surgical residency at Duke, memories of Sabiston, and his career.
1 Interview (1 transcript) and 11.6 MB
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Scope and content:

Includes 1 oral history interview with Dr. William C. DeVries conducted on August 20, 2019 by Emily Stewart as part of the Dr. David Sabiston Oral History Project.
In the August 20, 2019 interview, DeVries discusses his education, work at the University of Utah School of Medicine with Dr. Willem Kolff on the artificial heart, his surgical residency at Duke, memories of Sabiston, and his career.

Biographical / historical:

Dr. William Castle DeVries, MD, was born on December 19, 1943 at the Brooklyn Naval Hospital in New York to Henry DeVries, a physician and lieutenant junior grade in the Naval Reserve during World War II, and Cathryn DeVries, a nurse. William and his mother moved to Utah to be close to family after his father was killed during the Battle of Hollandia in the Pacific Theater of Operations in 1944 when DeVries was 6 months old. A few years later, Cathryn married Don Nuttall and during that marriage had 8 more children. Throughout his youth, DeVries was active in sports, excelled in his studies, and displayed an early interest in medicine and mechanics.
DeVries attended Ben Lomond High School in Ogden, Utah where he was on both the basketball and track teams. He won the Utah state finals in high jumping and because of his athletic abilities, he went to the University of Utah on a track scholarship. He graduated with a BS in Molecular and Genetic Biology in 1966. He attended medical school at the University of Utah and received his MD in 1970.
An early mentor of DeVries was Willem Kolff, a pioneer in the field of artificial organs. In his first year of medical school, DeVries asked to join his research team. DeVries' work with Kolff allowed him to perform experimental surgery on the first animal recipients of an artificial heart. After earning his medical degree, DeVries left Utah to perform his internship and surgical residency at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. He was the recipient of several research awards from the North Carolina Heart Association for various cardiothoracic studies he performed at Duke University during the 1970s.
In 1979, DeVries returned to the University of Utah as an assistant professor of surgery and a member of Kolff's team, and the following year he became Chairman of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University's Medical Center. At this point, DeVries began working with Robert K. Jarvik's design for a mechanical heart: the Jarvik-7, a device which replaced the ventricles of the human heart and was powered by an electrical unit outside the patient's body. A series of successful animal experiments led the Utah team to seek permission from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to implant the Jarvik-7 in a human patient. When permission was granted, DeVries became the only surgeon in the world authorized to implant a total artificial heart (TAH) as a permanent replacement for a diseased human heart. On December 2, 1982, DeVries and his surgical team performed the first TAH implant in a human patient, a widely-publicized event which made DeVries an international celebrity. His patient, 62 year old Barney Clark selected by the unanimous decision of a 6-member review panel, experienced a series of medical complications following the procedure (including strokes) that were also the subject of considerable media attention. The patient's death of multiple organ failure 112 days after implantation and the many ethical and practical concerns raised by the public caused the FDA and the Utah team to reassess protocols for the TAH program.
DeVries felt his research was suffering because of the intense scrutiny and left the University of Utah in 1984. He accepted a position with Humana Heart Institute International in Louisville, Kentucky. He joined the practice of Humana chairman and founder Allan Lansing and received permission from the FDA to perform his remaining TAH procedures at Humana Hospital-Audubon. On November 25, 1984, DeVries implanted his second Jarvik-7 artificial heart into 52 year old William Schroeder. Like Clark, Schroeder was the subject of intense media coverage during his recovery from the implant and several subsequent complications, including fevers and strokes. Schroeder eventually died of a stroke on August 6, 1986, becoming the longest surviving recipient of an artificial heart. Before Schroeder's death, DeVries had performed implants on two additional patients: 58 year old Murray Haydon, who died of an infection 488 days later, and 63 year old Jack Burcham, who died of massive internal bleeding 10 days later. Humana's artificial heart program stalled just as the national debate over the merits of this experimental procedure grew more urgent. DeVries was called upon to voice his professional opinion on the ethics of using experimental devices on human patients and the publicity surrounding his procedures. By 1987, more Jarvik-7 hearts were being implanted by other surgeons outside of Humana, and these implants were only bridges to transplantation as opposed to permanent replacements for diseased hearts.
In June 1987, DeVries left the practice with Lansing because of his frustration with the TAH program's inertia and the constant international media attention. He then formed his own private surgical practice, focusing on traditional cardiovascular surgery to work with more patients. Because of this, he had little to do with artificial heart research after years of intense work in the field, and in June 1988, DeVries formally resigned from his position at Humana to establish his practice as a separate entity from the institute. Humana continued its support of the artificial heart program until the FDA withdrew its approval of the Jarvik-7 in 1990. Meanwhile, DeVries continued performing open-heart surgeries out of the public spotlight until he retired from private practice in 1999.
DeVries has published extensively and is the recipient of the following awards and honors: Alpha Epsilon Delta Premedical Honor Society, University of Utah (1965); Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, University of Utah School of Medicine (1970); Paul Wintrobe Memorial Award, University of Utah School of Medicine (1970); Phi Eta Sigma Freshman Honor Society, University of Utah School of Medicine (1981); Gold Heart Award, Utah Heart Association (1983); Gold Plate Award, American Academy of Achievement (1983); Utah Man of the Year Award, Utah Chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (1983); Award for Scientific Achievement, Maimonides Research and Development Foundation (1984); Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, University of Utah (1984); Golden Key National Honor Society, University of Louisville Chapter (1985); Honorary Doctor of Humanities, Weber State University (1985); Honorary Doctor of Humanities, American University of the Caribbean (1986); Honorary Doctor of Humanities, Kentucky Wesleyan College (1986); Honorary Doctor of Science, Spalding University (1986); Silver Good Citizenship Medal, National Society of Sons of the American Revolution (1988); Outstanding Citizen of Utah, Utah Symphony (1990); Kentuckian Award, A.B. "Happy" Chandler Foundation (1994); and Barton F. Haynes Society Lifetime Scholar (2005).

Acquisition information:
Accession A2020.029 (transferred by Mary-Russell Roberson, July 2020)
Processing information:

Processed by Lucy Waldrop: July 2020

Organized into the following series: Interview, August 20, 2019.
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Copyright for Official University records is held by Duke University; all other copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], William C. DeVries Oral History Interview, Duke University Medical Center Archives.