Retirees Association

Richard A DeWall—author of proposal for WSU Medical School—passes away at age 89

Richard Dewall

Richard Alison DeWall, M.D., age 89, born to Grace Gardner and Herman Harvey DeWall on December 16, 1926, in Appleton, Minn., died peacefully at his home on August 15, 2016.

Dr. DeWall grew up in Morris, Minn., where he became an Eagle Scout. He enlisted in the US Navy where he served until October 1945. He then graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1949, where he also obtained his M.D. in 1953. He was a member of Sigma Chi Fraternity, and later became a Significant Sig. Dr. DeWall was also a member of the University's Marching Band. While serving his medical internship at United States Public Health System in Staten Island, NY, he treated both servicemen and immigrants at Ellis Island, and at that time became interested in the function of the heart.

Returning to Minnesota, he approached his former mentor, Dr. Richard Varco, with a model of the heart he carved from plaster of Paris, and then began work as a research assistant in experimental surgery. Open-heart surgery had just begun at the University of Minnesota. The need soon became apparent for a heart-lung machine, an oxygenator, to replace the human donor. With approval and encouragement from Dr. Owen Wangensteen and Dr. C. Walton Lillehei, Dr. DeWall took on this project and in a period of less than six months in 1955, produced the first workable, portable bubble oxygenator. The DeWall Bubble Oxygenator became the model used around the world for open-heart surgery. A replica of his first oxygenator is on display at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution.

Dr. DeWall continued his cardio-thoracic surgery career as chairman of the Department of Surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago from 1962-1966.

He then moved to Dayton, where Mrs. Virginia Kettering was eager to have open-heart surgery performed at the new Kettering Hospital. She arranged for Dr. DeWall to come to Dayton to start the Open Heart Surgery program at the hospital, as well as serve as Chief of Surgery at Cox Heart Institute. Dr. DeWall joined the practice of Drs. Charles O'Brien and Robert Taylor, and performed the first open heart surgery at Kettering hospital.

Soon after his arrival in Dayton, Dr. DeWall felt the city might support a medical school to supply doctors for local hospitals. For the next three years - in addition to his increasingly busy surgical practice - Dr. DeWall worked to enlist the support from medical, civic, and political leaders. Dr. DeWall wrote the original proposal for what became The School of Medicine at Wright State University.

He also established the general surgery residency-training program at Kettering and served as director from 1970-76. In addition, Dr. DeWall authored hundreds of publications, and many of his inventions led to further medical innovations. He was a proud member of Oakwood Rotary Club, the 49er's, Moraine Society, American Association for Thoracic Surgery, a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology, and American College of Surgeons, and belonged to several other medical societies and civic associations.

Dr. DeWall had a love of trees, a passion for skiing and woodworking, and he could fix absolutely anything. A natural curiosity of how things work and repairing or making things better drove his inventiveness. He will also be remembered as a true visionary.

A devoted and deeply caring husband, father, and grandfather; friends and family will remember him for his sharp wit, humbleness, and gentlemanly qualities. He and Diane built a beautiful life together upon a strong foundation of faith, family, and friends.

A Memorial Service will be held at 2:00pm, on Friday, August 26, 2016, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 33 W. Dixon Ave., Dayton, OH 45419. Family will greet friends immediately following the service at the Moraine Country Club, 4075 Southern Blvd., Dayton, OH 45429.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions are made to the Academy of Medicine at Wright State University, (Office of Advancement, 725 University Blvd., Dayton, OH 45435) or the Wright State University Foundation, Richard DeWall M.D. Endowment Lecture Series c/o Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine, (Office of Advancement, 725 University Blvd., Fairborn, OH 45324).