Noted thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon and researcher John C. Norman Jr. was born May 11, 1929, in Charleston, West Virginia. His mother Ruth Stephenson Norman was a longtime educator in Kanawha County; his father John Norman Sr. was an architect and structural engineer. After graduating valedictorian from Garnet High School in 1946, John Norman entered Howard University. He later transferred to Harvard and graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1950.
John Norman received his M. D. from Harvard Medical School in 1954. Following an internship and residency in New York, he served aboard the aircraft carrier Saratoga in 1957 and 1958 before completing his cardiac surgical training at the University of Michigan. In 1962, Norman was a National Institutes of Health fellow at the University of Birmingham, England.
Norman became an associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and joined the surgical staff at Boston City Hospital in 1964. In addition to his teaching and surgical duties, Norman undertook several medical research projects involving organ transplants. In 1967, he successfully transplanted the spleen of a healthy dog into a hemophiliac beagle. As a result of their research on the liver, Norman and his associates were able to use a pig's liver to keep a patient alive for eighteen days.
It was while in Boston that Norman also began important research into a left ventricular assist device for cardiac patients. This research took him to the prestigious Texas Heart Institute in 1972. For the next several years, Norman worked on development of the first abdominal left ventricular assist device (ALVAD), which could be implanted temporarily in patients suffering cardiac failure after open-heart surgery. Between 1975 and 1978, Norman and institute founder Dr. Denton Cooley implanted a number of these devices. Norman also researched potential power sources and materials for artificial hearts.
Norman later worked as a surgeon at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in New Jersey before returning to West Virginia in 1986 to serve for several years as chairman of the surgery department at Marshall University School of Medicine. For his work in medical research, Norman was awarded the 1985 Congressional High Technology Award. He previously was honored as the Charleston Gazette-Mail's West Virginian of the Year for 1971.