Lives of the fellows

Harold James Charles Swan

b.1 June 1922 d.7 February 2005
MB BS Lond(1945) MRCS LRCP(1945) MRCP(1946) PhD(1951) FACC(1963) FRCP(1967)

Harold James Charles (‘Jeremy’) Swan, director of the division of cardiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, was perhaps best known as the co-inventor of the Swan-Ganz pulmonary artery balloon catheter. He was born in Sligo, Ireland, the son of two Irish Catholic doctors, Harold John Swan and Marcella Bertile Swan née Kelly. He was educated at Glenstal, Limerick, and then at Castleknock College, Dublin. Swan developed meningitis while at college, lapsed into a coma and nearly died, but was saved by sulfonamide drugs, then the only effective antibiotic, administered by his mother. He was an excellent athlete and an amateur middleweight boxer. He studied medicine at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, and graduated in 1945.

After junior posts as a casualty officer and then house physician at St Thomas’, he served for two years in the RAF, as a squadron leader in the medical service and a physician (junior consultant) at RAF Hospital Habbaniya, Iraq.

Following his demobilisation in 1948, he spent three years as a physiology lecturer at St Thomas’, researching under the heart physiologist Henry Barcroft [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.37]. With Barcroft, Swan published a series of landmark studies that defined the nature of the human vascular response to sympathomimetic agents. Swan was awarded his PhD in 1951.

In 1951 he emigrated to the USA, where he was a fellow at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, under Earl Wood. Swan defined the problems of congenital heart disease, and developed techniques for measuring heart output and detecting shunts between the two sides of the heart. His paper ‘Pulmonary hypertension in congenital heart disease’ (Am J Med. 1954 Jan;16[1]:12-22) became a classic in the field. At Mayo he became director of the catheterisation laboratory.

In 1965 Swan moved to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital (later to become Cedars-Sinai), Los Angeles, where he was director of the division of cardiology, a position he held for the next 22 years.

In 1968 Swan and his fellow researcher William Ganz invented the pulmonary artery balloon catheter. This revolutionised heart surgery and enabled bedside monitoring of critically ill patients by measuring heart output and capillary pressure in the lungs. The catheter was described in ‘Catheterization of the heart in man with use of a flow-directed balloon-tipped catheter’, N Engl J Med. 1970 Aug 27;283(9):447-51.

Swan was president of the American College of Cardiology in 1973. He became a Distinguished Fellow of the college in 1985, gained the Distinguished Service award in 1999 and in 2003 was a recipient of the college’s Distinguished Scientific Achievement award, the highest honour.

Swan 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 Chest Physicians. One of his most treasured awards was the honorary doctorate he received from Trinity College, Dublin.

He moved to Pasadena on his retirement, where he continued to write and to give invited lectures. He carried out medico-legal work and was the director of two companies making cardiac devices.

In 1946 Swan married Pamela Winnifred Skeet, the daughter of an industrial manager. They had five daughters (Elizabeth, Caroline, Geraldine, Eleanor and Katherine) and two sons (Jeremy and Gordon). Following his divorce, he married Roma Shahbaghlian in 1973. Jeremy Swan died in Cedars-Sinai, from complications following a heart attack. Predeceased by his daughter Katherine, a rheumatologist who died of cancer in 1992, he was survived by his wife Roma, six children, 11 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

RCP editor

[ – accessed 1 May 2012;, 2005 330 675; The Independent 17 February 2005; The Lancet 2005 365 1132]

(Volume XII, page web)

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