Dr. Owen Wangensteen, chief of surgery at the University of Minnesota Hospitals from 1930 through 1967, trained more chairmen of surgery departments throughout the United States than any American surgeon before or since.
He was instrumental in developing many new surgical procedures for cancer of the stomach and bowel. He invented the nasogastric suction apparatus that was to be used around the world following gastric, colon, and other abdominal surgical operations.
He teamed with Dr. Maurice Vischer, the director of the Physiology Department in the medical school, requiring each surgical resident to acquaint himself in the animal laboratories with normal mammalian physiology. One of his residents in training, Dr. C. Walton Lillehei, went on to successfully complete the first open-heart surgery (at the University of Minnesota), and another, Dr. Christiaan Barnard, completed the first heart transplant.
Wangensteen grew up on a farm in western Minnesota. While still in high school he decided he was going to be a farmer, but his father said, "No, you are going to college." When Wangensteen protested, his father one summer gave him the job of transferring a large manure pile from one side of the barnyard to another. After that summer Wangensteen decided to go to college. In medical school his brilliance was recognized, and the University sent him to Germany to study with their world-famous surgeons.
He had the unusual ability to remember even small facts about patients and their lives. He was a voracious reader and could retain minute details of medical journal articles, even to the footnotes, which he was known to quote when making a point. Following retirement he could be seen leaving the medical library with more books than he could carry. He was active and learning until the day he died. He has to be considered the most famous surgeon from Minnesota, and certainly one of the most famous physicians.
~John Reichert, Hopkins, MN