Castleknock College Union
Join The Union

Jeremy Swan, class '40

1922 - 2005

Feb 7, 2005
Jeremy Swan, class '40 - KnockUnion.ie

Jeremy was born in Sligo, Ireland, the home of the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats, during the years of the Irish revolution. The son of two Irish Catholic doctors, he was one of four brothers, with Harold, David, and Gordon.

At 17, Jeremy left Sligo to enroll at St Vincent College, Dublin, at a time when Hitler had begun the conflict in Europe that was to culminate in World War II. While in college Jeremy developed meningitis, lapsed into a coma, and nearly died, to be saved by the timely intervention of his mother, who administered sulfa drugs, the only effective antibiotic prior to the discovery of penicillin.

An excellent scholar-athlete in his early years, Jeremy was for a period of time an amateur middleweight boxer. He received his medical degree from the University of London, St Thomas. After graduation, Jeremy joined the Royal Air Force, serving as the medical director of a hospital in central Iraq. Put in a position of responsibility and authority with little prior training and experience, he honed the remarkable qualities of leadership, which were to characterize his subsequent career.

After returning from service he received his PhD from the University of London. Based on his early research in cardiovascular disease, Jeremy was elected as a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London. Soon thereafter he and his mentor, Dr Henry Barcroft, published a series of landmark works that defined the nature of the human vascular response to sympathomimetic agents. Published over 50 years ago at the dawning of the era of cardiac catheterization, these classic manuscripts foreshadowed the research that was later to make him one of the best-known cardiologists of his time.

In 1951 Jeremy emigrated to America for a fellowship with Dr Earl Wood, one of America's leading cardiac physiologists. It was during the years at the Mayo Clinic that he and his wife Pamela expanded their family. They had seven beautiful children—Elizabeth, Caroline, Jeremy, Geraldine, Eleanor, Katherine, and Gordon. Academically, Jeremy took his understanding of vascular physiology into the catheterization laboratory, where he set out to define both the anatomic and physiologic perturbations that accompany congenital heart disease. His work, "Pulmonary hypertension in congenital heart disease," became a classic. With Wood and others, Jeremy played a central role in the development of indicator dilution techniques, using indocyanine green for the measurement of cardiac output and detection of intracardiac shunts. It is perhaps a monument to his creativity that the current generation of cardiologists is largely unaware of his contributions to these two new disciplines, because of what was to follow.

By 1965, as director of the Mayo Clinic catheterization laboratory, with over 100 peer-reviewed publications in the field of basic and clinical cardiac physiology, Jeremy was an international leader in vascular physiology and congenital heart disease. He was now being courted to be chief of cardiology by major universities. Jeremy chose Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, later to become Cedars Sinai Medical Center. At that time, Cedars had only a modest academic reputation. Jeremy came as director of the division of cardiology, a position he held for the next 22 years. During these years, he established a world-class division of cardiology, based on his fundamental contributions to the treatment of acute coronary syndromes. As its leader, he was recognized for his great vision and leadership as well as his individual accomplishments.

In 1968, Jeremy invented the pulmonary artery balloon catheter that was to bear his name. With the catheter we could measure cardiac output and pulmonary capillary pressure. This created an entirely new discipline: bedside hemodynamic monitoring in critically ill patients. Using this technology, we were able to describe the hemodynamic response to all the principal drugs used to alter cardiac function. This new knowledge forever changed the management of disorders as diverse as myocardial infarction, critical burn injury, acute respiratory failure, and surgical anesthesia.

In 1973 Jeremy married Roma Shabaghlian, who brought a new dimension into his life. Roma helped him understand that what lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are little compared with what lies within us. Together they made the department of cardiology their family.

Jeremy was honored with many distinguished awards during his lifetime. He was president of the American College of Cardiology in 1973. And based on his many contributions to the college, he was given awards for Distinguished Fellow in 1985, Distinguished Service in 1999, and its highest award, for Distinguished Scientific Achievement, in 2003. As his division grew, Jeremy received a multitude of honors. He received the Walter Dixon Memorial Award of the British Medical Association, the Maimonides Award of the State of Israel, the Herrick Award for Outstanding Achievement in Clinical Cardiology from the American Heart Association, and the Theodore Cummings Humanitarian Award from Cedars-Sinai and was named a Master of the American College of Cardiology and of the American College of Chest Physicians. One of his most treasured awards was the honorary doctorate he received from Trinity College Dublin.

Beyond his impact as a brilliant physiologist and practical scientist, Jeremy was an inspiring leader. He served as mentor for many young cardiologists, providing them inspiration and direction. Among his many trainees are individuals who in turn came to have significant impact on international cardiology. These individuals include Sabu Rahimtoola, Ben MacAllister, William Parmley, Kanu Chatterjee, George Diamond, William Mandel, Daniel Berman, Robert Siegel, PK Shah, Tom Peter, Frank Litvack, Neal Eigler, Noel Bairey-Merz, Willie Ganz, Jack Matloff, and James Forrester, among many, many others. To these, Jeremy Swan stands with several other leaders of our time in having trained a cadre of younger cardiologists who themselves have become great mentors and role models. According to Bill Parmley, who served as associate director of the division before moving to the University of San Francisco to become division chair, "Jeremy was an innovator and clear thinker . . . a maverick who worked well within the academic environment. He was extremely helpful to me personally in my career. He was definitely Irish. He had the gift of gab and was one of the most charismatic and persuasive speakers I have ever heard. He generated tremendous loyalty from all those who worked with him, in part because of his caring nature and paternalistic feelings about his staff. Above all else he was a wonderful human being who cared deeply about his 'beloved profession.' His sense of humor was always just beneath the surface and from time to time erupted to charm everybody within earshot."

After retiring and moving to Pasadena, Jeremy became a member of the Economic Round Table, a dynamic group of professional men, enjoying intellectual stimulation and meaningful friendships. At each meeting one group member was selected to give a speech on a topic of his choice. Here too, Jeremy became something of a legend, being honored for giving the best speech for several years.

Those who knew Jeremy from afar would no doubt say the visionary and leader is what they will remember. But those who knew him best will say he was an enthusiastic human being who loved his family and students and who transmitted his commitment of personal integrity in both personal and professional life. Scientist, mentor, and humanitarian, Jeremy Swan was and remains, to paraphrase Henry B Adams: "A man who affects eternity—he can never tell where his influence stops."

He is predeceased by his daughter Katherine and survived by his wife, Roma, six children and their spouses, 11 grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter.