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Xavier Magazine | April 24, 2014

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Alumni Profiles: William B. Baumgartner, MD

Alumni Profiles: William B. Baumgartner, MD
By France Griggs Sloat

Bachelor of Science in natural sciences, 1969
Vice Dean for Clinical Affairs, Professor of Cardiac Surgery, director, Surgical Research Laboratory, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore

Day-Hop Docs | A commuter student from Ft. Thomas, Ky., Baumgartner would play pool in the student center when he wasn’t studying. “There were maybe half a dozen of us day-hops from Kentucky. At least one was in pre-med.”

Yikes! Snakes! | His advisor, Joseph Peters, S.J., kept a boa constrictor in the lab. “It got away once, and he found it in a closet. He did research on chick embryos, so he had little chicks, and you know boas only eat live things. He’d put this chick in there and he’d attract all kinds of people who knew when feeding time came. I hate snakes actually.”

Pure Luck | Part of getting into med school was “pure frigging luck,” he says. “The trend in those days was not to apply to that many schools, and I applied to three—it’s not heard of today—and was down to the University of Kentucky. I held my breath and got in there.”

California Bound | He had better luck with his residency, getting into Stanford University, where he trained in general and cardiothoracic surgery. Surgery was “great fun with instant gratification. Someone comes in with a problem, you fix it and the person is better almost immediately.”

More Luck | The first doctor he met at Stanford was Dr. Norman E. Shumway, the father of heart transplantation in the United States. Shumway became his mentor, and Stanford gave Baumgartner his start in heart surgery. “In those days, heart transplantation was so exciting. It is an intense profession, and occasionally people die, and you never know when, so it keeps you on edge.”

Baltimore Transplant | Baumgartner moved to Baltimore in 1982 to head up the division of cardiac surgery at Johns Hopkins. He developed the heart transplant program and in 1992 took over as chief of cardiac surgery until 2009. During that time, he helped organize a research program that studied potential rejection of transplanted hearts and neurological problems after heart surgery.

Practice Practice | He’s performed more than 100 heart transplants, a number he says is limited only by the number of donors available. But the quality has improved exponentially—the one-year survival rate before the drug cyclosporin was 62 percent, and now it’s closer to 90 percent.

Winding Down | Baumgartner is more involved now in administration. He still oversees the research lab and, as president of the Clinical Practice Association, he oversees who gets certified to do surgery at Johns Hopkins.

Xavier Redux | “Xavier gave me the foundation to do well in medical school, both from an ethical and a science point of view. The education process and mentoring by Fr. Peters provided the sort of real foundation I needed.”

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