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Robert Edward Gross

Born  1905
Died  1988

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American surgeon, born July 2, 1905, Baltimore, Maryland; died October 11, 1988.

Biography of Robert Edward Gross

In 1938 Dr. Robert Edward Gross at the Children's Hospital in Boston performed the first operation for patent ductus arteriosus. His patient was a seven year old girl. Gross is considered to be one of the greatest pioneers in heart surgery, cardiovascular surgery, paediatric surgery as well as general surgery. He is said to have been the first to do 45 different operations. Gross worked in paediatric surgery for more than 40 years at Children's Hospital in Boston.

From 1947 to 1966 Dr. Gross was the William E. Ladd Professor of Child Surgery at the Harvard Medical School and surgeon-in-chief at Children's Hospital in Boston. Gross was Ladd's chief resident and they worked together for many years. Dr. Gross eventually filled the position of Dr. Ladd upon his retirement.

In 1938, Gross and Dr. John Perry Hubbard (1903-1990), a paediatrician, worked in the laboratory on dogs and other animals as well as in the morgue. There they figured out how to operate on patent ductus arteriosis (PDA).

The operation that Dr. Gross and associates developed was a way to ligate this persistent connection between the pulmonary artery and the aorta. Dr. Gross had asked Dr. Ladd if he would allow him to do this operation if he should have the opportunity. Dr. Ladd was firm in his manner of NO: "we don't touch the heart".

When Dr. Ladd went on vacation for a week the acting chief of surgery was now Dr. Thomas Lanman who had written extensively on babies born with oesophageal atresia and operated on babies with this defect. Gross approached Dr. Lanman and asked if he could operate on a patient with a patent ductus arteriosis.

Dr. Lanman gave his permission. On August 26, 1938, Gross performed the operation on a 7 year old girl by the name of Lorraine Sweeney. With his assistant surgeon and his patient, Gross made medical history. Lorraine not only survived the operation, but was up and out of bed the very next day. Lorraine went home 10 days after surgery.

Lorraine became the poster child for the American Heart Association and to this day when doctors meet her they want to have their picture taken with her. When Lorraine last visited Gross at the age of 58, Gross said to her; "you know Lorraine, if you didn't survive I would have ended up being a farmer.

The biographical information about Robert Edward Gross was found on the website of TEF/Vater® International, a non-profit organization founded by Greg and Terri Burke after their daughter, Jaclyn, was born with oesophageal atresia in 1990.


  • Surgical ligation of a patent ductus arteriosus: report of first successful case. Written with John Perry Hubbard.
    The Journal of the American Medical Association, Chicago, 1939, 112: 729-731.
    One of the earliest successful surgical repairs for congenital heart disease.
  • Surgical correction for coarctation of the aorta. Surgery, 1945, 18: 673-678.
    Resection of coarctation and direct anastomosis of remaining ends.
  • The surgery of infancy and childhood. Philadelphia, W. B. Saunders, 1953.
    This was the first modern comprehensive textbook on the subject. Biographical:
  • Francis D. Moore and Judah Folkman:
    Robert Edward Gross - July 2, 1905-October 11, 1988.
    Biographical Memoirs. National Academy of Sciences, 1995, 66: 131-148.
  • Vladimir V. Alexi-Meskishvili and Igor E. Konstantinov:
    Surgery for atrial septal defect: from the first experiments to clinical practice.
    The Annals of Thoracic Surgery, 2003, 76: 322-327.
  • W. Böttcher and V. V. Alexi-Meskishvili:
    Der erstmalige Verschluss eines persistierenden Ductus arteriosus.
    [The first closure of the persistent ductus arteriosus]
    Zeitschrift für Herz-, Thorax- und Gefäßchirurgie, Darmstadt, June 2006, 20 (3): 122-130.

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