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Dr. Andrew A. Gage, 101, pioneering surgeon who helped develop heart pacemaker

Buffalo News - 4/29/2024

Apr. 29—May 7, 1922 — March 28, 2024

Dr. Andrew A. Gage played key roles in two major breakthroughs in the treatment of heart disease during his long career as a surgeon and researcher.

Alongside Dr. William M. Chardack, the chief of surgery at what is now Buffalo Veterans Affairs Medical Center, he worked with inventor Wilson Greatbatch to develop the first implantable heart pacemaker. They tested prototypes of the pacemaker on dogs in their lab and then successfully inserted the first devices in two heart patients in the 1960s. They went on to do many pacemaker implants and some of the area's first heart bypass surgeries.

Two decades later, as chief of staff at the VA hospital, Dr. Gage oversaw the first heart transplant in Western New York, in which the heart from a 21-year-old accident victim in Elmira was given to a veteran from Middleport. In his research, he explored the use of cryogenics in surgery for cancer and other ailments and was considered a leader in the field.

He died March 28 in Beechwood Health Care Center, Getzville. He was 101.

Born in West Seneca, the son of Andrew B. and Estelle Stahl Gage, he was a graduate of West Seneca High School. He earned his medical degree in 1944 from the University of Buffalo, then served in the Army Medical Corps as a captain at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

He completed his internship in surgery at E. J. Meyer Memorial Hospital, now Erie County Medical Center, and did residencies in surgery and pathology at Meyer Memorial and at the veterans' hospitals in Batavia and Buffalo. He then became a staff surgeon at the Buffalo VA hospital.

He succeeded Chardack as chief of surgery in 1968 and became the VA hospital's chief of staff three years later.

Continuing to work with Chardack, who remained as the hospital's chief of thoracic surgery, Dr. Gage and longtime colleague Dr. Anthony Federico implanted the first long-lasting nuclear-powered pacemakers in the world in 1972. One of their patients, Anthony J. Tasca, had been one of their first pacemaker recipients 12 years earlier.

In 1984, after two years of planning, he oversaw the first heart transplant in the state outside New York City, which was performed by a team led by Dr. Jorge Bhayana at the Buffalo VA hospital.

Later in 1984, Dr. Gage accepted an appointment as associate director for clinical affairs at what was then Roswell Park Memorial Institute. He was promoted to deputy institute director three years later and retired in 1994.

The author of more than 50 scientific publications, he presented papers at surgical meetings throughout the U.S.

He and Greatbatch both were given D'Youville College's first Award for Achievement in Health Care in 1996. Both also were inducted into the West Seneca Science Hall of Fame.

Dr. Gage received the Rudolph Ellender Medical Foundation Award for outstanding contributions to cryosurgery in 1979 and the Distinguished Service Award from the Association of Veterans Administration Surgeons in 1980. He also received the key to the City of Buffalo from Mayor Byron W. Brown.

He served as president of the Heart Association of Western New York and was a state governor for the American College of Surgeons.

A fellow of the American Heart Association Council on Cardiovascular Surgery, he also was a member of advisory board of governors of the American Society of Contemporary Medicine and Surgery.

A dedicated chess player all his life, he kept a chess board in his office and at one time played the game via postcards with opponents around the world. He was a finalist in the UB Chess Club open championship in 1957 and a director of the Queen City Chess Club.

He also enjoyed camping, played tennis for many years and, as a member of the Buffalo Yacht Club, raced Highlander boats on Lake Erie.

He was married on Sept. 28, 1944, to Virginia Mae Kelley, a registered nurse he met at Meyer Memorial Hospital. She died in 2018.

His son, Dr. Andrew M. Gage, a surgeon and founder of Dr. Andy's Day for Kids, a fundraiser for the neonatal intensive care unit at Sisters Hospital, died in 2005.

Survivors include three daughters, Patricia Wind, Susan Klimek and Peggy Rusert; 13 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be private.

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