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Logo of thijTexas Heart Institute JournalSee also Cardiovascular Diseases Journal in PMCSubscribeSubmissionsTHI Journal Website
Tex Heart Inst J. 2010; 37(6): 627–628.
PMCID: PMC3014121

In Memoriam

Donald P. Shiley
figure 1FFU1
Figure. Donald P. Shiley, ca. 1992.

Donald P. Shiley, a highly respected and acclaimed pioneer in the field of medical and surgical technology, died on 31 July 2010. In those early years when open-heart surgery was being explored, I became friends with Don. I admired his modest, sincere manner and his dedication to innovation and progress in the emerging field of cardiac valve replacement.

After earning a bachelor's degree in engineering at the University of Portland in 1951, Don worked with inventor-engineer Lowell Edwards and Dr. Albert Starr, who introduced the ball-and-seat valve prosthesis. Various design modifications were to follow. Don then developed improvements of his own. An early product that he designed (along with Dr. Jerome Kaye) involved a discoid poppet in a cage. Don later introduced a tilting-disc valve. This stimulated a new concept—central flow—which facilitated the function of prosthetic valves by imitating the action of human valves.

Don visited me in Houston and demonstrated his prototype valve, which impressed me with its design. He suggested that if I were to use the valve experimentally and possibly clinically, he would name it the Cooley-Shiley valve. I declined, because I was committed to a similar project with Dr. Ed Smeloff, who had a modified caged-ball design. Because Don was planning to attend a meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, I suggested that he contact Dr. Viking Björk, to whom he could make a similar offer. This was the inception of the Björk-Shiley valve, which soon met with widespread acceptance. Several minor changes occurred in the original design, such as modification of the disc with a concave–convex configuration, and the use of different materials and struts. Unfortunately, certain stresses on the struts led to escape of the disc, with some disastrous results. The complications occurred unexpectedly, despite extensive preclinical testing in vitro and in vivo. The alarming news spread, and plans for the replacement of implanted Björk-Shiley valves caused great concern and many serious considerations for surgeons. Of course, litigation ensued, even though only a rare few of the valves were malfunctioning. (I had a large series of patients who had received the valve, but none required replacement.) Throughout the turmoil, Don conducted himself with dignity and concern, and he tried to protect Dr. Björk, who shared the blame from critics and patients.

Meanwhile, Don collaborated with Dr. Marian Ionescu in using equine pericardium that was treated with glutaraldehyde. We at the Texas Heart Institute became one of the largest users of the Ionescu-Shiley prosthesis, which did not require anticoagulants to prevent thromboembolism. Don's biomedical engineering company, Shiley Inc., expanded widely with a variety of devices and products. The company's eventual purchase by Pfizer permitted Don to retire.

When I first met Don, he was married to Pat, who worked actively with him on heart valves and other products until she died. Years later, Don married Darlene, and they were together until his death. They began a path of philanthropy, donating substantially to the School of Engineering at the University of Portland and to other institutions and organizations. The University gave Don an honorary doctorate in 2006. Don had 4 children and 5 grandchildren.

I still have surviving patients with functioning Björk-Shiley and Ionescu-Shiley valves, some of which were implanted 30 or more years ago. I am one of many friends and colleagues who will remember Don fondly and with high esteem for his gracious manner and his pioneering contributions to cardiac medicine.

Denton A. Cooley, MD
Founder, Surgeon-in-Chief, and President Emeritus, Texas Heart Institute at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital, Houston

Articles from Texas Heart Institute Journal are provided here courtesy of Texas Heart Institute