Dr. Robert P. Glover - the Surgeon Who Saved My Mother's Life with Pioneering Heart Surgery - Part Three

This is Part Three of a six-part series of news columns that detail the human side of the heart surgeries that took place in the 1950's. This third article focuses on Dr. Robert P. Glover, the surgeon whose pioneering surgical methods saved my mother's life. Nurses General Nursing Article

Dr. Robert P. Glover - the Surgeon Who Saved My Mother's Life with Pioneering Heart Surgery - Part Three

To read Part 1, go to How One Doctor Gave Life to Many and How One of Those People Made That Life Worth Living - Part One

Dr. Robert P. Glover pulled my mother, Alice McDonough, into a medical system to save her life. A family where the wife worked as a secretary and the husband worked as a plumber did not have the funds for the surgeries needed to save her life.

Robert Glover - University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Robert P. Glover (foreground right) is seen here during a heart surgery at The Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia in 1958. (Photograph is provided courtesy of The Presbyterian Medical Center Records of the University of Pennsylvania Archives, 1958.)

This man was one of several men who led efforts to repair broken hearts. Hearts damaged from birth. Hearts damaged from disease. Doctors in Philadelphia, Boston, Toronto, Rochester (Minnesota), London, and elsewhere researched, operated, and taught other doctors and nurses ways to help those overlooked by others.

Dr. Glover was one of the early leaders of the American College of Cardiology.

While my father, James McDonough, and others worked with the community to secure the blood, the family of Dr. Glover dealt with the fact that he wasn’t home much. His life revolved around his patients.

He left his home early each morning and rarely came home to have dinner with his family. When he did come home early, many times it was because he was sick.

Dr. Glover died at the age of 47 in 1961.

The lives of two families intertwined.

One led efforts to give life to others.

One led efforts to make that life worth living.

In our family, we had heard about Dr. Glover ever since we were little kids. It’s hard for me to overstate how important this man and his medical team were to our family.

Quite simply, I would not be alive nor would two other children if it had not been for Dr. Glover and his medical team.

While I had long been told the story of how I was one of those put on display at a medical convention as proof that children could be born to women who underwent heart surgery, I had only seen a single postcard confirming such a visit to Philadelphia in early 1961.

Until a few years before the death of my mother in 2009, though, I did not realize the full extent of what that meant.

She would lay her head each night on a bed next to a cabinet. In that cabinet, she kept letters and notes from the late 1950s and the early 1960s.

To me, there is no such thing as a coincidence. Instead, I believe most everything happens for a reason. In many cases, that reason may not be known for some time – even decades.

Reading those letters and notes confirmed my beliefs.


Among the letters, there were two from Dr. Glover. One letter asked my mother if she would attend a meeting of nurses at the Bellevue Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia in 1960. The Heart Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania was sponsoring a seminar for nurses on heart surgery. Dr. Glover indicated that my mother’s case had been one of the most critical. He wanted her at the seminar. He made a casual reference to her “present situation”. I knew what he was referring to. That was the style at the time.

He encouraged my mother to come to the meeting of nurses because her presence would help him in his mission to save the lives of others. He needed nurses to provide the quality medical care for patients undergoing and recovering from cardiac surgery. Dr. Glover and other select doctors at the time saw the potential for success of open-heart surgery by utilizing the talents of women who were nurses. Many doctors at that time did not see nurses as anything approaching their equals. Nurses, at the time, were almost always women. Doctors, at that time, were chiefly men.

Alice McDonough attended that seminar for the nurses.

Dr. Glover wrote in one of the letters that her presence spoke volumes to the nurses present.

She was pregnant. Obviously pregnant.

With me.

Dr. Glover showed the nurses film of my mother’s surgery. Her body being cut open. Her ribs being sliced. Her heart undergoing surgery.

The fact that a woman could undergo such surgery, have her throat cut, be immersed in ice, and still survive was a miracle in itself.

But to then be able to prove that she could get pregnant and carry a baby to a live birth was an even stronger statement.

While she was not the first woman to do so, she was one of the women used as role models so that others could see the potential for life.

The fact that the baby lived (and two other babies subsequently were born) was further proof that women who had undergone heart surgery could withstand the stress of pregnancy and the birth of babies.

And live.

The following year, in 1961, my mother was again put on display at another medical convention in Philadelphia. This time, she brought her baby – me – with her. And she was pregnant again with another child.

The nurses took notice.


I never met Dr. Glover in person.

But in one of his letters to my mother, he wished her well and hoped that her son would be “a great big, fat, juicy, baby boy who turns out to be an All American Football Player.”

Dr. Glover was correct regarding me being fat – only at times, of course, and actually, it’s just loose muscles – not fat – but no one would ever confuse me with an All-American Football Player.

While I didn’t play professional football, I was, in essence, raised in the footsteps of Dr. Glover and men like him.

Part Four of this series will detail how blood from labor and management made my mother’s life possible.

To read the beginning of the story, go to:

How One Doctor Gave Life to Many and How One of Those People Made That Life Worth Living - Part One

Life-Saving Surgeries: A Woman from Chadwicks - Part Two

If you have a question or a suggestion about nursing, please contact Richard McDonough at [email protected].

Your question or suggestion may be used in a future news column.

© 2019 Richard McDonough

Richard McDonough is a freelance journalist whose work has been published in a number of digital news sites, newspapers, and magazines in the United States and in Europe. He’s also broadcast business news for a television station. Mr. McDonough was honored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews with the Gold Medallion Mass Media Award for outstanding contributions to better human relations and the cause of brotherhood. One of the approaches utilized by Mr. McDonough is civic journalism. The concept includes investigative efforts showing people how to solve civic problems and enhance civic opportunities. Several key elements include presenting the facts in a way that provide context to each situation; going to the original source for information, when and where possible; not presenting both sides of an issue, but instead, presenting all sides of an issue – whether that be 2 sides or 17 sides; and attributing all key facts to specific sources. A portfolio of his work can be viewed at TwoCents.News. Mr. McDonough has been active in charitable activities throughout the United States. His charitable efforts have been recognized by two Presidents and two national non-profit organizations. Mr. McDonough can be reached directly at [email protected]​​​​​​​.

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