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Physician John Clavon Norman Jr., a noted thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon and researcher, was best known for his work toward creating an artificial heart. He was born in Charleston on May 11, 1929. His mother, Ruth Stephenson Norman, was a teacher, and his father John Clavon Norman Sr., was West Virginia’s first licensed Black architect.

John Norman Jr. was the valedictorian of the graduating class of Garnet High School in 1946 and enrolled in Howard University. Transferring to Harvard, he graduated in 1950. In 1954, Norman received an M.D. from Harvard Medical School. After an internship and residency in New York, he served aboard the aircraft carrier Saratoga in 1957–58 before completing his surgical training at the University of Michigan.

Norman was an assistant professor of surgery at Harvard and joined the surgical team at Boston City Hospital in 1964. He became involved in medical research projects concerning organ transplants, in 1967 successfully transplanting the spleen of a healthy dog into a hemophiliac dog.

While in Boston, Norman began research into a left ventricular assist device, a battery-operated pump for heart patients. He left Boston for Houston in 1972, establishing the Cardiovascular Surgical Research Laboratories at the Texas Heart Institute. For the next several years, he worked on the development of the first abdominal left ventricular assist device, which could be transplanted temporarily in patients who suffered cardiac failure after open-heart surgery. Norman also researched potential power sources and materials for artificial hearts. He later worked as a surgeon at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center before returning to West Virginia in July 1986 to become chairman of the surgery department at the Marshall University School of Medicine. He served in that capacity until August 1989.

John C. Norman was the author of more than 500 scientific papers and eight books. He was named the Charleston Sunday Gazette-Mail West Virginian of the Year in 1971, and in 1985 he received the Congressional High Technology Award. He lived out his final years in Massachusetts, dying there on August 23, 2014. In May 2016, a two-block section of Lewis Street in downtown Charleston was renamed John Norman Street to honor both father and son.

This Article was written by Judie Smith

Last Revised on July 28, 2023

Cite This Article

Smith, Judie "John C. Norman Jr.." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 28 July 2023. Web. 14 June 2024.


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