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Jonathan Drummond-Webb (1959–2004)

Jonathan Drummond-Webb was the chief pediatric heart surgeon at Arkansas Children’s Hospital from 2001 to 2004. He brought the David Clark Heart Center into national prominence through his high success rate, averaging 600 surgeries per year with only a two percent mortality rate. He also performed the first-ever successful surgery using the DeBakey ventricular assist device (VAD), a miniature heart pump, in 2004.

Jonathan Drummond-Webb was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, on August 29, 1959, toErrol Praine Drummond and Anne Drummond-Webb. He was first inspired to become a heart surgeon after Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the world’s first successful human-to-human heart transplant, in Cape Town, South Africa. Drummond-Webb stated in an interview that when he learned of this, he was “amazed that someone could do that with the human heart.” Drummond-Webb received his MD at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg at age twenty-two. South Africa was not the ideal place for him to pursue his career, however, due to many government restrictions on surgeries, so he and his wife, Dr. Lorraine De Blanche, immigrated to the United States in 1993.

Drummond-Webb received a fellowship at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. After two years, he moved to Ohio to practice at the Cleveland Clinic, one of the largest heart centers in the nation. During his time there as director of pediatric cardiac and lung transplantation, he began pioneering work in the field of heart surgery and transplants in children, gaining national attention. In 2000, he accepted an offer of the position of chief of pediatrics and congenital heart surgery at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock (Pulaski County).

During his time at Children’s, beginning in January 2001, Drummond-Webb helped to expand the David Clark Heart Center. The rate of successful surgeries greatly increased—with the center, and particularly Drummond-Webb, gaining national recognition.

In 2002, Children’s became the subject of a television miniseries on ABC. The executives were drawn to Drummond-Webb’s astonishingly low mortality rate: two percent out of the 830 surgeries he had performed during his eighteen months at Children’s. The four-part series was titled ICU: Arkansas Children’s Hospital, airing in August 2002.

In 2004, Drummond-Webb performed surgery on fourteen-year-old Travis Marcus, a patient in need of a heart transplant, inserting a miniature heart pump called the DeBakey device into his chest. This allowed Marcus limited mobility while he waited for a match for his transplant. The device had been used only once before and had been unsuccessful; the patient had died after sixteen days, never receiving a transplant. However, Marcus survived fifty-six days on the device. On November 11, 2004, Drummond-Webb found a match and performed the successful transplant surgery. This has led to more successful surgeries of this kind.

On December 26, 2004, Drummond-Webb was found dead in his home by his wife. After struggling with bouts of depression throughout most of his adult life, Drummond-Webb had committed suicide using a combination of painkillers and alcohol. De Blanche continues to practice medicine in Little Rock.

Drummond-Webb stated in an Arkansas Business interview in 2002: “I want this department [Children’s heart center] to achieve the same level I expect from myself so that they can continue to carry on long after I’m dead and gone. If I can leave a legacy of a caring and loving attitude, then I think I’ve accomplished something worthwhile.”

For additional information:
“Cut Short—Jonathan Drummond-Webb’s Remarkable Life.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 29, 2004, p. 8B.

“Dr. Jonathan J. Drummond-Webb: World-Class Surgeon.” Arkansas Business, April 15, 2002. Online at http://www.arkansasbusiness.com/article/58913/dr-jonathan-j-drummond-webb-world-class-surgeon (accessed July 2, 2013).

Smith, Nell. “Heart-Pump’s Reprieve Saved Teen.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 10, 2004, pp. 1B, 12B.

Yee, Daniel. “Children’s Hospital Taps Surgeon to Run Program.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 16, 2001, p. 4A.

Darby Burdine
University of Central Arkansas

Last Updated 9/23/2013

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