Dr. Demetre Nicoloff, 69, a pioneering heart surgeon who helped develop the St. Jude heart valve and performed the first heart transplant in Minnesota, died Tuesday at his home here after a three-year battle with a bone marrow disease.
Dr. Nicoloff was a long-time member of Saint Mary Cathedral, Minneapolis. He was also a member of the Board of Trustees of Saint Vladimir Orthodox Theological Seminary, Crestwood, NY in the early 1990s and served on the school’s Capital Campaign Committee, which was responsible for raising over $20 million for expansion of the seminary’s library and other facilities.
Besides co-developing one of the most popular and successful heart valves in medical history, Dr. Nicoloff co-founded or was a principal investor and adviser to as many as seven start-up medical device companies. Over the years, the companies produced medical devices that either improved or saved the lives of millions of people around the world and created high-paying jobs for thousands of Minnesotans.
During his career, Dr. Nicoloff also performed nearly 10,000 open-heart operations on patients ranging from tiny newborns to 100-year-olds. He also implanted the first Saint Jude heart valve in a Minnesota woman in 1977. Since then, surgeons around the world have installed nearly 1.5 million of the life-saving devices.
Born in Ohio, Nicoloff received his medical degree from Ohio State University and completed his residency at the University of Minnesota, where he earned two Ph.D. degrees. He practiced for about two years at the VA Medical Center at Fort Snelling before returning to the university.
One of Nicoloff’s mentors was Dr. Owen Wangensteen, the legendary professor who also trained such famous surgeons as Dr. C. Walton Lillehei, the father of open-heart surgery, and Dr. Christiaan Barnard, the surgeon who performed the world’s first successful heart transplant.
Dr. Nicoloff is survived by his wife, Ardelle; two sons and one daughter.
Funeral services were held on Saturday, August 9.
May Dr. Nicoloff’s memory be eternal!