First Annual Henry Swan Visiting Professorship in Surgery
May 20, 1982
H. William Scott Jr., M.D.
University of Colorado Health Sciences Center
[PHOTO=Portrait of Henry Swan, II, M.D.]
Henry Swan, II, M.D.
Henry Swan was born in Denver on May 27, 1913. After graduating cum laude from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1931, he entered
Williams College where he continued his outstanding academic record (magna cum laude) while finding time to be captain of
the Tennis Team and lettering in other varsity sports.
Henry entered Harvard Medical School in the elite class of 1939 which spawned six professors and chairmen of surgery, and
innumerable professors in other specialties. Henry was a Junior A.O.A. and valedictorian in this famous class.
After a Pathology Residency at Colorado General Hospital (1939-40), Dr. Swan took a Surgical Residency at the Boston Children's
Hospital and the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in 1942-43. Predictably he then joined the Army in World War II and quickly became
Chief of a surgical team in the 5th Surgical Group in the European Theater. He came home to Denver with Major leafs on his
shoulders, a room full of souvenirs, a wealth of surgical experience, and a lot of good stories.
Dr. Swan started as Assistant Professor of Surgery at the University of Colorado in 1946. Dr. Jack Foster was Chairman of
Surgery at the time and clearly groomed
Henry for this job. Despite Dr. Swan's official surgical residency of only two years, he was clearly ready to take over
the top job and did so on July 1, 1950. He was the first full-time Surgical Chairman at the University of Colorado School
The eleven years that Henry Swan was Chairman of Surgery in Denver were unexcelled for excitement, growth and fun. His remarkable
interest, imagination, research productivity, clinical and technical abilities, and his role as a teacher attracted talent
at Faculty and Resident levels from throughout the United States. He personified charisma. He took a sleepy, almost unknown
Surgical Department and within a few years made it a world renowned center.
This was the golden period of development of cardiac surgery, and Henry Swan and his team were in the forefront of this exciting
process. He was the first to recognize the possibilities for using hypothermia to prolong time for operating within the heart.
This occurred before the era of the pump oxygenator, and only someone with Henry's skills and boldness could have pioneered
this technique. The defects had to be corrected within 6-7 minutes of cardiotomy. He was the first to perform open operations
on the aortic and pulmonary valves, and pioneered the way to repair atrial septal defects. He published more than 250 papers
during this period. His remarkable achievements have brought him honors from virtually every surgical society in this country.
He was given an honorary D.Sc from Williams in 1959. Dr. Swan retired as Chairman in 1961 and has since continued an active
investigative career. In 1974 he published a book on Thermoregulation and Bioenergetics.
Such a barebone account, however distinguished, cannot catch the inimitable flavor of Henry Swan's personality. His interests
are all encompassing. An avid sportsman, he could always outshoot, outcast, outhunt, and (in his own mind) outski any and
all comers. He flew his private plane through North and South America to the terror of his passengers and colleagues. His
enthusiasm swept ordinary caution aside.
The Swan children, Edith, Henry, Helen, and Gretchen have so far given Henry
Henry Swan, more than any single figure, built the Department of Surgery at the University of Colorado.
The annual Visiting Professorship has been established by Dr. Swan's many surgical pupils as lasting evidence of their
thanks to him for the spark he added to so many careers.