April 26, 2019


SUBJECT:    Pioneering Cardiologist and Mentor John Ross, Jr. dies at 90

John Ross, Jr., MD – whose pioneering bent ranged from developing new techniques to assess and save ailing hearts to helping establish the UC San Diego School of Medicine as its first and long-time head of cardiology died at his La Jolla home on April 11 at the age of 90.

Ross retired as a distinguished professor of medicine emeritus at UC San Diego School of Medicine in 2005, ending an academic career that began 37 years earlier when he was recruited by Eugene Braunwald, the School of Medicine’s founding chair of the Department of Medicine, to head the division of cardiology. Ross led the division of cardiology from 1968 to 1991 helping establish one of the leading scientific cardiovascular programs in the nation.

“I decided to try it all, to teach as well as do clinical care and research,” Ross said in a 2012 interview in the journal Circulation Research.

In particular, Ross is celebrated for developing transseptal catheterization, a now widely used technique to access the left side of the heart to treat a variety of cardiac conditions, including atrial fibrillation and other arrhythmias. Previous methods had involved inserting long needles down the neck into the pulmonary artery and then into the heart or inserting a bronchoscope down the throat and windpipe, then passing a needle through the scope to puncture the left atrium of the heart. “I thought, there must be a better way,” Ross told Circulation Research. After several years of experiments and testing at the NIH, Ross devised a special curved needle and method that dramatically simplified the procedure.

He also made a very significant contribution to the field of coronary revascularization, showing a decline or “stunning” of heart muscle function when partially deprived of its blood supply, and then a beneficial, slow restoration to full function by reestablishment of normal blood flow within the perfusing coronary artery.

“John was the best mentor I ever had,” said Kirk L. Peterson, MD, professor of medicine and director emeritus of the Sulpizio Cardiovascular Center at UC San Diego Health. “But his most notable characteristic was his humility. Here was a man who was prodigiously important to the modern history of cardiology and instrumental in establishing and leading cardiovascular medicine at UC San Diego for over two decades. Yet, he never trumpeted his achievements. He let his intellect as well as his highly respected research and novel patient observations speak for themselves.”

Ross was born December 1, 1928 in New York City, the son of Dr. John Ross Sr., MD, an otolaryngologist, and Janet Moulder Ross, a piano teacher from whom Ross acquired near-professional keyboard skills. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree at Dartmouth College in 1951 and his MD from Cornell University Medical College four years later, then conducted his clinical and research training at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center and New York Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York.

Going into the field of cardiovascular medicine resulted in Ross authoring more than 560 published research articles, receiving multiple appointments, from president of the American College of Cardiology to membership on the National Heart, Blood and Lung Advisory Council, and a lifetime of achievement and honors, including the Distinguished Scientist Award from the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association’s John B. Herrick and Eugene Braunwald Academic Mentorship Awards, the Weill Cornell Medical College Award of Distinction, Italy’s Enzo Ferrari Prize and the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy.

“John Ross, Jr. has left an international mark on the field of cardiovascular medicine with numerous division chiefs of cardiovascular medicine and heads of cardiovascular research institutes from Japan to Germany and the United States having trained with him” stated Ehtisham Mahmud, MD, professor and division chief of cardiovascular medicine at UC San Diego Health. “The impact of his work is felt on a daily basis.”

Ross was married for 45 years to Lola Romanucci-Ross, PhD, whom he met when both served as advisors for a medical student’s thesis. Romanucci-Ross, who died in 2017 at the age of 93, was a renowned cultural anthropologist and faculty member in both the UC San Diego Department of Anthropology and the School of Medicine’s Department of Family and Preventive Medicine.

Each year, UC San Diego School of Medicine presents the Lola Romanucci-Ross and Dr. John Ross Jr. Award in Medical Anthropology to a student who has demonstrated substantive interest and study in the cultural factors that impact health care delivery or the practice of medicine. A second award, the Dr. John Ross Jr. and Lola Ross Award in the Sciences and Culture of Medicine, is given to a student with dedication both to the medical sciences as well as cultural influences on medical practice and research.

Ross is survived by his three children (Sydnie Moore, John Ross and Duncan Ross), two stepchildren (Adan Schwartz and Deborah Nightingale) and nine grandchildren (Jason Ross, Allison Ross, Duncan Moore, John “Cliff” Moore, Sean Ross, Brennan Ross, Norah Nightingale, Luca Schwartz and Siena Schwartz).

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in memory of Dr. John Ross Jr. to support these awards. Please make checks payable to the UC San Diego Foundation, noting the gift is in memory of John Ross Jr. or fund F-3866. Please mail checks payable to UC San Diego Gift Processing, 9500 Gilman Drive, #0940, La Jolla, CA 92093-0940. Donations can also be made online at after entering “F-3866” in the search box.

David A. Brenner
Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences

Steven R. Garfin
Interim Dean, School of Medicine

Wolfgang H. Dillmann
Chair, Department of Medicine