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"The Plight of the Innovator - How to Get Out of It"

A Whiting-Turner Lecture: October 18, 2012

Thomas Fogarty

Dr. Thomas Fogarty, inventor of the balloon catheter, gave a Whiting-Turner Lecture on October 18 as part of the 2012 Fischell Festival.

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Dr. Thomas J. Fogarty is an internationally recognized cardiovascular surgeon, inventor, entrepreneur and vintner.  He has been involved with a wide spectrum of innovations in business and technology. Dr. Fogarty has served as founder/co-founder, and chairman/board member of more than 33 various business and research companies, based on medical devices designed and developed by Fogarty Engineering, Inc. During the past 40 years, he has acquired 135 surgical patents, including the “industry standard” Fogarty balloon catheter and the widely used Aneurx Stent Graft that replaces open surgery aortic aneurysm. Dr. Fogarty is the recipient of countless awards and honors; most significantly, he is the recipient of the Jacobson Innovation Award of the American College of Surgeons, the 2000 Lemelson-MIT prize for Invention and Innovation and was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame and the National Academy of Engineering.

Recently, Dr. Fogarty and his colleagues founded the Fogarty Institute for Innovation at El Camino Hospital. The purpose of the institute is to create an environment where innovation in medicine is encouraged, supported and nurtured.

Dr. Fogarty was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and received his undergraduate education at Xavier University and his medical degree from the University of Cincinnati. He completed his residency at the University of Oregon and later served as medical staff president at Stanford Medical Center from 1973-1975. After 13 years directing the Cardiovascular Surgery Program at Sequoia Hospital, Redwood City, Calif., he returned to academic life at Stanford University School of Medicine in July 1993, as professor of surgery. Dr. Fogarty now spends his time creating new medical devices with Fogarty Engineering and the Institute for Innovation.


The field of medicine is not always friendly to innovation. The Hippocratic Oath states, “Do no harm,” and so we teach, particularly in surgery, “Do the same things, the same way, to the same people.” The “standard of care” in the legal arena is another factor weighing against innovation; if you do not adhere to the standard of care and your patient develops a complication, you will likely be sued and lose the suit. However, while consistently applying proven approaches is important, and standards have their place, there are significant differences among patients that we must recognize and treat, and new technologies whose promise we must explore. This is where innovation comes in. Innovation means that the new must displace the old—not only old technologies, old concepts and old relationships, but old perspectives. To displace the old, the new must prevail or we must make the old new again. This is the plight of the innovator.