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Thomas Fogarty

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Thomas Fogarty

Thomas P. Fogarty
Born (1934-02-25) February 25, 1934 (age 80)
Cincinnati, Ohio
Residence California
Nationality Irish American

Dr. Thomas J. Fogarty (born in Cincinnati, Ohio on February 25, 1934) is an American surgeon and inventor of the embolectomy catheter. Before his invention the success rate for removing an embolus, or blood clot, was forty to fifty percent. In 1963, Dr. Thomas Fogarty published an article describing "a new method for extraction of arterial emboli and thrombi."[1]

The balloon embolectomy catheter was used on a human patient for the first time six weeks after Fogarty came up with the idea in 1961. Today, using only local anesthesia, the procedure only takes about an hour.

Fogarty’s inventions and the many others that resulted from his original embolectomy catheter heavily influenced the way surgery was performed. When asked about the time the impact his invention had on the field, he says, "I had no concept that [non-invasive surgery] would reach the magnitude that it has."[2] As a result of the invention, Dr. Fogarty, still alive today, went on to win many prizes and patent over sixty inventions.

Early life and education

On February 25, 1934, Fogarty was born into a poor, Irish Catholic family as the youngest of three children living in Cincinnati. His father worked as a railroad engineer, but he died when Fogarty was just eight years old.

Fogarty assumed a role of greater responsibility at a young age, but, as he points out later in life, his father’s absence also nurtured his own creative nature as an inventor. He fixed things that his mother needed fixed, and he worked with soapbox derby cars and model airplanes. "I just had a natural inclination and inquisitive nature about building things. I looked at things and just naturally thought, 'Okay, how can I make this better?'"[2] His business side was evident in childhood as well. The model airplanes that he built were sold to neighborhood kids. When he became frustrated with motor scooter gears, he built and sold a centrifugal clutch.

As for Fogarty’s educational background, he was not a top-notch student, and his original career goal was to be a boxer. “I wasn’t a very good kid. They sent me to a camp to keep me out of trouble. One of the routine activities was boxing. I became the Midwest Golden Glove champ.”[3]

To help his family get by in the late 1940s, fourteen-year old Fogarty started working at Good Samaritan Hospital during a time when hospitals were still exempt from child labor laws. He began the job cleaning medical equipment in the eighth grade, but he continued working during his high school summer vacations and was soon promoted to scrub technician, a person who handed medical instruments to surgeons.

During his last year of high school, Fogarty discovered that he wanted to be a doctor. At the age of 17, he quit his boxing career after he broke his nose in a match that ended in a draw. A family priest gave him a recommendation, and because of his awful grades, he was admitted to Cincinnati’s Xavier University on probation. In order to get through college, Fogarty took on three jobs and received financial assistance from Dr. Jack Cranley, Fogarty’s mentor and one of the most prominent vascular surgeons in the United States. Fogarty was Cranley’s private scrub technician at Good Samaritan Hospital. “I had a mentor who encouraged me and helped to persuade me to go to college…He had 10 kids and I became the 11th. He always told me, ‘You are smarter than you think.’”[3]

Fogarty graduated from Xavier University with a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1956 and went on to attend the Cincinnati College of Medicine where he graduated in 1960. From 1960 to 1961, he interned at the University of Oregon Medical School in Portland, Oregon, and he completed his surgical residency at the same school in 1965.

Invention of the embolectomy catheter

During Fogarty’s years at Good Samaritan Hospital, he witnessed the deaths of many patients who died from complications in blood clot surgeries in their limbs. “Fifty percent of the patients died. I thought there must be a better way.”[4] Before Fogarty’s invention, surgeons had to use forceps to remove the blood clots only after a huge part of an artery had been cut open, and the patient would be under general anesthesia for hours. Blood flow is usually interrupted in the procedure, increasing the risk of the patient losing a limb.[5]

At home, the ideas that went through Fogarty’s head concerned different ways of making the procedure better, and he especially concentrated on avoiding the risky incisions. He tinkered with a urethral catheter and a balloon in his attic. Because a catheter only required a small incision, it would be able to get to the clot without much trauma to the patient. The urethral catheter is also flexible yet strong enough to be pushed through a blood clot. As for the balloon, he basically cut off the tip of the pinky finger of a size 5 surgical latex glove and attempted to incorporate it onto the end of the catheter. The resulting balloon could be inflated with saline using a syringe, and once it expands to the size of the artery, it is then retracted, withdrawing the clot through the artery and out the incision.

The main problem in building this device was the way the balloon could be attached to the catheter. Glue that could hold vinyl, the material making up a catheter, and latex, the type of glove used, was not available. Fogarty’s own take on the catheter came about because of fly fishing techniques he learned as a child. Precise hand-tying was needed in fly fishing, and with these techniques, he tied the balloon to the catheter. "I'd always tied flies and made lures so it was just a natural thing."[2] His experimental balloon catheter, however, always seemed to burst when it was over inflated. It even broke when he dragged it through glass tubes filled with Jell-o, a model he thought simulated a clot within an artery. After some time, he figured out the type and thickness of rubber that was firm enough when inflated to extract a clot and still flexible enough to move through without breaking. The device, made before Fogarty even received his MD from University of Cincinnati in 1960, became the first minimally invasive surgical device.

Fogarty, however, came across difficulties in getting a manufacturer to produce it. From 1959 to 1961, nobody was willing to help. "Companies thought I was some stooge fooling around. I didn't have any credibility."[6] Dr. Cranley continued to encourage him, and soon, during his fellowship training at the University of Cincinnati in 1961 and 1962, Fogarty started to make the catheter system by hand for himself and for other vascular surgeons.

At the University of Oregon, while Fogarty was completing his residency in surgery, Dr. Al Starr, head of the cardiothoracic division, used Fogarty’s balloon catheters. After he was informed that no company was willing to manufacture Fogarty’s device, he asked one of his acquaintances, Lowell Edwards, an electrical engineer and president of his own company, to give the device consideration in producing it. In 1969, Fogarty patented his device, and Edwards Life Sciences from Irvine, California, was assigned the patent to begin manufacturing the Fogarty embolectomy catheter.

Because of the decreased risk associated with the device, it became the industry standard. It is still the most widely used catheter for blood-clot removal today and has been used in over three hundred thousand procedures every year all over the world.[7] It is estimated to have saved the lives and limbs of approximately fifteen million patients.

Other inventions

Numerous sequel applications of Fogarty’s catheter came about. The first balloon angioplasty, for example, was performed with a Fogarty catheter in 1965, and has led to over six hundred fifty thousand such operations per year. Fogarty has also modified his catheter to less invasive biopsy techniques.

After completing his residency and becoming a cardiovascular surgeon, Fogarty continued to invent new medical devices as a holder of more than 60 patents, with more still pending. Based on many of the devices founded in his own Fogarty Engineering, Inc., around twenty companies have been started.

One of Fogarty’s most successful products is the Stent-Graft. This dealt with the difficult problem of abdominal aortic aneurysms, which is a term referring to a weakened blood vessel. The old method was to remove the bad part of a weakened blood vessel, but Fogarty’s idea was to support it with an implant. He used a stent, a thin polyester tube that grabs onto the blood vessels. A catheter transports the stent to the weakened blood vessel, and once the balloon is inflated, the stent expands to the size of the blood vessel, and blood flows normally.

He also invented the Fogarty Clamp, which is used in cardiac surgeries.

Thomas Fogarty Winery and Vineyards

In 1969, when he began teaching surgery at the Stanford University Medical Center, Fogarty was first introduced to the wine industry. He helped out a Stanford colleague’s small winery with vineyard and cellar practices. Later on, he purchased land in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He established a cellar there and began making wine with grapes bought from nearby growers. He planted his first vines in 1978 and set up a commercial winery, Thomas Fogarty Winery and Vineyards, in 1981. The estate now consists of three hundred twenty-five acres. Fifteen thousand cases of wine are produced annually.

Fogarty’s basis for winemaking also stems from his explanation that certain elements in the extracts from grape skin relax the blood vessels and lower the affinity for blood to clot.

Of the wines produced in Fogarty’s vineyard, the 2004 SCM Lexington Meritage wine received “double gold” status in the San Francisco International Wine Competition in 2008, and the 2005 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay was the gold medal winner and the “Best Chardonnay of Class” in the 2008 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Three Arch Partners

Fogarty, along with Mark Wan and Wilfred Jaeger, co-founded a venture capital firm called Three Arch Partners in Portola Valley, California, in 1993. Wan and Jaeger both had noteworthy experience in the venture capitalism field, but it was Fogarty’s prestige that caused the firm to grow.

Three Arch Partners focused on early stage medical device companies and has helped with the growth of more than fifty new healthcare companies. It manages over one billion dollars in capital.

In 2004, however, Fogarty was fired from the firm. He was let go due to issues pertaining to the amount of time Fogarty devoted to the firm. His time spent teaching, making wine, and working Fogarty Engineering, Inc. contributed to this decision. “It’s like giving birth to a child, but then having to leave it behind, which is hurtful, but I’ve been kicked of better places than [Three Arch], and I wouldn’t say that I wish them well.”[8]

The Fogarty Institute for Innovation

Fogarty left Stanford Medical School after about fourteen years as a professor and practicing cardiovascular surgeon. In September 2007, at Mountain View, California, in Silicon Valley, he founded the Thomas Fogarty Institute for Innovation. It occupies forty-five hundred square feet of offices and engineering labs on the campus of El Camino Hospital. The educational, non-profit organization mentors and trains medical innovators. The idea for the institution dates back to Fogarty’s early life when he received encouragement from Dr. Jack Cranley.

“We are teaching people (doctors and engineers) how to get their concepts and products into use. Very few have gone through the process of coming up with a concept and getting it funded. That does not come naturally. It comes through experience. We will teach how to address these challenges.”[3] Physician innovators, including Fogarty, serve as the faculty of the Institute and make use of their networks and experiences in the private industry to help those with projects that are ready for commercialization.


  • Inventor of the Year, San Francisco Patent and Trademark Association, 1980
  • Distinguished Scientific Presentations, American College of Surgeons, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1981
  • Honorary Doctorate, Xavier University, 1987
  • The Lemelson-MIT Prize, 2000
  • AAMI Foundation Laufman-Greatbatch Prize, 2000
  • National Inventors Hall of Fame, 2001
  • Medical Design Excellence Awards Lifetime Achievement Award, 2012

Affiliated organizations

  • American Association for Thoracic Surgery
  • American College of Physician Inventors
  • American College of Surgeons, Fellow
  • American Surgical Association
  • International Society for Cardiovascular Surgery-North American Chapter
  • International Society of Endovascular Specialists
  • Pacific Coast Surgical Association
  • Society for Clinical Vascular Surgery
  • Society of Vascular Technology; The Society for Vascular Surgery
  • The Society of Thoracic Surgeons
  • Western Thoracic Surgical Society

See also



  1. “AAMI Foundation Laufman-Greatbatch Prize.” Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation.
  2. “About the Fogarty Institute for Innovation.” Fogarty Institute for Innovation.
  3. “About Three Arch Partners.” Three Arch Partners.
  4. Brown, David E. “Thomas Fogarty.” in Inventing Modern America: From the Microwave to the Mouse. The MIT Press.
  5. “Dr. Thomas Fogarty.”
  6. “Editorial Board Thomas Fogarty Editor-in-Chief.” International Society of Endovascular Specialists.
  7. “Embolectomy Balloon Catheter.” Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  8. "A Legend At Heart," by John Flood, Los Altos Town Crier. August 22, 2007, News Section.
  9. Meyers, Michael, and Patrick O'Leary. * * * “Fogarty and His Catheter.” American Surgeon 64, no. 5 (May 1998), EBSCO MegaFILE.
  10. Primack, Dan. “Three Arch Co-Founder Fogarty Let Go.” Private Equity Week 11, no. 43 (November 8, 2004)
  11. Riggins, Christie. “Great Inventions Don’t Happen Overnight.” Stanford Medicine Magazine 17, no. 3 (Fall 2000)
  12. Riordan, Teresa. “PATENTS; Two inventors honored for seminal work on the balloon catheter and wireless communications.” New York Times, May 22, 2000, Business Section.
  13. “Thomas Fogarty.” National Inventors Hall of Fame.
  14. White, Tracy. “Father of invention” Stanford Medicine Magazine 23, no. 3 (Fall 2006)

Selected patents

  • Fogarty, U.S. Patent 3,435,826, “Embolectomy Catheter”
  • Fogarty, U.S. Patent 3,880,166, “Vessel Occluder”
  • Fogarty, U.S. Patent 4,643,194, “Flexible calibrator”
  • Fogarty, U.S. Patent 4,774,949, “Deflector guiding catheter”
  • Fogarty, U.S. Patent 4,821,719, “Cohesive-adhesive atraumatic clamp”

External links

  • Journal of Endovascular Therapy
  • The Fogarty Institute for Innovation
  • Three Arch Partners
  • Thomas Fogarty Winery and Vineyards
  • Inventing Modern America: From the Microwave to the Mouse

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