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Nina Starr Braunwald Cardiovascular Research Film Collection 1960-1965
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Biography

Biographical/Historical Note

Nina Starr Braunwald was born in 1928 in New York City. She earned a bachelor's degree and medical diploma from New York University, and completed a residency at New York's Bellevue Hospital in 1955. Braunwald completed her training in general surgery at Georgetown University Medical Center and took part in a postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Charles Hufnagel, who developed the first artificial heart valve.

Under the tutelage of Dr. Andrew G. Morrow at the Clinic of Surgery in the National Heart Institute (now the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute), Braunwald worked with Dr. Morrow to develop an artificial mitral valve using Teflon ribbons, which she tested on dogs. In 1960, she replaced the mitral valve of a 44-year-old woman with her artificial valve. The surgery and valve replacement were considered a success despite the patient's death four months later. Dr. Braunwald also helped develop the Braunwald-Cutter valve, which was a cloth-covered, mechanical device that was used in thousands of surgeries until it was superceded by the Starr-Edwards valve. Braunwald was appointed deputy chief of the Clinic of Surgery at the National Heart Institute in 1965 but left three years later to take an associate professorship in surgery at the University of California, San Diego, where she established a cardiovascular surgery program. She then became an associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School in 1972 and went on to serve on the staffs of several Boston-area hospitals including Boston Children's, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and the West Roxbury Veterans Administration Hospital.

As a woman in the male-dominated field of heart surgery, she faced numerous obstacles after leaving the National Heart Institute where her mentor, Dr. Morrow, had bolstered her reputation and skills in the surgical community. Dr. Braunwald persevered. In addition to the artificial valves she developed at NIH, she also contributed to the development of a stented aortic homograft for mitral valve replacement and pioneered techniques to discourage the formation of clots associated with prosthetic valves and circulatory assist devices. Among her many accomplishments, Braunwald was the first women to perform open heart surgery, the first woman to be certified by the American Board of Thoracic surgery, and the first woman to be selected for the American Association for Thoracic Surgery. The Association of Women Surgeons presented her with its Distinguished Member Award for her achievements. Nina Braunwald died of breast cancer on August 5, 1992 in Weston, Massachusetts.