In memoriam Dr. William I. Norwood

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Bill Norwood
April 21, 1941 – Dec 13, 2020

bill norwood

It is with sadness that we announce the passing on December 13, of the legendary surgeon, Bill Norwood. On behalf of the World Society for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Surgery, we thank you Bill for your immense contributions, Farewell, and Godspeed!

WSPCHS Governing Council

Below is a heartfelt message from his colleague and close friend, Marshall Jacobs.

“I write to let you know that Bill Norwood passed away on the evening of December 13, 2020.

Bill and Jodee moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico about three years ago.

Having spent part of his youth in Los Alamos (just 60 miles from Albuquerque), Bill was drawn to the area. He and Jodee loved the geography and the climate in the semi-desert foothills of the Sandia Mountains. Fortunately, they have been visited often by close friends and family.

Bill's passing leaves a tremendous void, in a space occupied for nearly eight decades by one of the true giants in the field of surgery, and a great friend and very special mentor to so many of us.
Isaac Newton is quoted as saying: "If I have seen further, it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants."

Bill was truly a giant in this respect. His genius, his determination, his skill and his generosity have touched so many of us. And individuals in all parts of the world who are engaged in the care of patients with congenital heart disease have "seen further" and been more effective in their work because of Bill's enormous and countless contributions.

Thank you Bill...thank you and farewell!”

Dr. Marshall Jacobs


William Imon Norwood, Jr. was born in Camden, Arkansas April 21, 1941. Bill’s family moved to Los Alamos, New Mexico, where his father, a scientist, worked at the newly created Los Alamos Laboratory. Bill won an appointment to attend the Air Force Academy following High School graduation. He left the Academy after two years, transferring to the University of New Mexico to pursue pre-medical studies. Bill finished college in New Mexico and went on to the University of Colorado Medical School, graduating in 1967. He pursued surgical training at the University of Minnesota, where pioneer cardiac surgeons like Richard Varco and C. Walton Lillehei were on the faculty. Then, upon completion of a Ph.D. in Biophysics and a general surgery residency in 1974, he was invited by Dr. Aldo Castaneda to come to Boston for specialty training residencies in Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery at Harvard Medical School. “The rest,” as they say, “is history.”

Bill went on to make countless enormous contributions to the rapidly progressing field of surgical management of congenital heart disease. He advocated for anatomic repair of transposition of the great arteries in the neonatal period, recognizing the unique but limited “window of opportunity” that existed because of the innately “prepared” nature the left ventricle of newborns with TGA, and did some of the first neonatal arterial switch operations. He went on to be the lead author of one of the early CHSS studies of intermediate results after the arterial switch repair. He pursued complete repair, rather than palliation, of more complex anomalies such as those combining interrupted aortic arch with intracardiac defects. And success was achieved, not just through technical prowess in rearranging the anatomy, but through a scientific AND intuitive approach in the operating room which included efficient use of hypothermia and of cardiopulmonary bypass, in ways that minimized its deleterious effects, based on Bill’s pursuit in the laboratory of an understanding of responses at the cellular level and the microcirculation to biochemical alterations related to anoxia and reperfusion. His care of patients in the intensive care unit was based not on a protocol but on their physiology.

Dr. Norwood’s name is known worldwide, largely in association with his personal development of staged reconstructive surgical management of Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. The Stage 1 Norwood operation, once a subject of skepticism, and then of envy, is today by far the most frequently performed complex neonatal cardiovascular reconstruction. But this was much more than a technical achievement. Bill was convinced that the well-developed right ventricle, which had supported the development in utero of a complete child, could be put to efficient use postnatally to support, for a limited period of time, both the systemic and pulmonary circulations, while carefully controlling pulmonary blood flow so that the pulmonary vasculature was adequately protected in anticipation of eventual conversion to functionally univentricular circulation based on principles embraced by Fontan and Kreutzer in their management of patients with tricuspid atresia. His belief that conversion to the Fontan circulation should be done in phases, allowing the single ventricle to “remodel” in response to the initial change in loading conditions before completing the total cavopulmonary connection remains the basis for successful management of single ventricle anomalies to this day.

The lives of literally tens of thousands of families in all parts of the world have been touched by Bill’s contributions. Many thousands were direct recipients of Bill’s outstanding care, having benefitted directly from his incomparable surgical skill and his genius in harnessing the fundamentals of cardiovascular physiology to optimize the outcomes from surgical therapies. Many, many more were beneficiaries of Bill’s gifts, through the work of countless other surgeons, cardiologists, anesthesiologists, nurses and others whose careers were directly impacted by his teachings, his mentorship, and the advanced understanding of congenital heart disease that he promoted.

Bill’s belief in his patients, and in the ‘life force” that motivates a small baby to go on living despite the enormous burden of abnormal circulatory physiology, enabled Bill to face challenge after challenge, and to create one solution after another. Bill liked to quote he late Theodore Levitt, former professor at the Harvard Business School and editor of Harvard Business Review, who said: ‘‘Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.’’ We are all indebted to Bill Norwood for having the Curiosity, Determination and Genius that it takes to Think Up New Things…. for the Empathy, Faith and Courage that it takes to Do New Things….And For the generosity to use those gifts to improve so many, many lives.

View a full interview with him from August 2010

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