Orvan Hess Biography

Orvan Hess
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Quick Facts

Birthday: June 18, 1906

Died At Age: 96

Sun Sign: Gemini

Born in: Lackawaxen Township

Famous as: Physician

American Men Male Physicians


Spouse/Ex-: Carol

children: Carolyn, Dr. Katherine Halloran

Died on: September 6, 2002

place of death: New Haven

More Facts

education: Lafayette College, University at Buffalo

awards: 1979 - AMA Scientific Achievement Award

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Who was Orvan Hess?

Orvan Walter Hess was an American obstetrician and gynecologist, who developed the first, fetal heart monitor. This device allowed the continuous monitoring of the patient and the baby during labor. Hess, along with a fellow doctor, used penicillin to save the life of a patient who contracted scarlet fever and streptococcal infection. He completed his residency in gynecology and obstetrics before he became a clinical instructor at Yale School of Medicine, New Haven .He served as a frontline surgeon during the World War II. A major contributor to the progress of obstetrics and gynecology, Orvan Walter Hess was known to be an enthusiastic and energetic obstetrician and gynecologist. He spent almost 50 years of his life as an obstetrician at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Orvan Hess is one of the most celebrated medical practitioners in history, who also received the prestigious, ‘Scientific Achievement Award’. He also published many reports throughout his career. Read this biography to find out more about Orvan Walter Hess.
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Childhood And Early Life
Orvan Hess was born on June 18 1906, in Baoba, Pennsylvania. His mother died when he was only two years old. His family then moved to Margaretville, New York, where Hess lived through most of his teenage years. At a young age, Hess wanted to study medicine after being inspired by Dr. Gordon Bostwick Maurer, who started the first hospital in Margaretville, in 1925. Young Orvan was an honors student and was highly interested in medicine.
Education And Career
Orvan Hess graduated from Lafayette College, Easton in 1927. It was in 1931 from the University of Buffalo, where he received his M.D. at the Children’s Hospital in Buffalo, New York, he successfully completed his internship on orthopedics and surgery. He then completed his residency in obstetrics and gynecology from Yale-New Haven Hospital in 1937. He spent most of his career practicing medicine at Yale-New Haven Hospital. His work intensified during the World War II, as he served as a surgeon in the 48th Armored Medical Battalion that was affiliated to the 2nd Armored Division during the invasions of North Africa, Sicily and Normandy. At Yale School of Medicine he was made the clinical professor of gynecology and obstetrics. Hess served as a Director of health services for the ‘Connecticut Welfare Department’ and was also made the President of the ‘Connecticut State Medical Society’. Hess retired in 1975 after his long professional career as a faculty member at Yale.
Works And Achievements

Hess was inspired by the article in ‘Reader’s Digest’ with the title ‘Germ Killers from Earth’ that explained how certain types of soil bacteria can kill streptococcal infections in animals. This led to the first clinical penicillin treatment in 1942, which was carried out by Hess and John Bumstead. Orvan Hess along with John Bumstead was known as the world’s first successful doctors who treated a patient with the help of penicillin. The treatment was performed on Anne Miller, who was suffering from streptococcal infection and scarlet fever. She successfully recovered from the disease after being administered a penicillin shot. Hess was honored with the ‘Scientific Achievement Award’ by the ‘American Medical Association’ in 1979.

During the 1930’s, Hess began his work on the fetal heart monitor as part of the research work at Yale University. Hess was frustrated with the fact that stethoscopes were useless on his pregnant patients with two heartbeats (maternal and fetal) and those who undergoing labor contractions. These limitations inspired Hess to develop the fetal heart monitor system.

After World War II in 1949, Hess returned to Yale to resume his work along with Edward Hon who was doctorate student. Together in 1957, they became the first individuals who used 6 ½ feet long and a 2 feet wide machine, in order to monitor the electrical cardiac signals from a fetus continuously. Over the years, Hess along with Wasil Kitvenko, who was the chief of the medical school’s electronics laboratory, worked together on improving the equipment. Hess upgraded the equipment by reducing the monitor size and inventing telemetry. This equipment proved to be one of the most-used tests in obstetrics and was an essential tool that allowed continuous monitoring of the fetus’ heart progressions during labor.
 Hess produced and published various works in his life. One important paper based on the use of catgut in the perineum was one of his first published works in 1936. Other works related to vascular injuries caused by the casualties of war were also published. Hess served as the President of the ‘Connecticut State Medical Society’. He was also certified and honored by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology as well as the ‘American College of Surgeons’ for his outstanding work.
Personal Life
Hess married Carol Maurer in 1928. His wife Carol died in 1998, and left him with two daughters, Katherine and Carolyn.
Death And Legacy
The inventor of the fetal heart monitor, Orvan Hess died at the age of 96, on September 6, 2002 in New Haven, Connecticut. Within the basement of a building called‘Hartford Medical Society’ located outside the city of Hartford, exists the original fetal heart monitor system made by Hess.



Orvan Hess was born on June 18, 1906.


He graduated from Lafayette College, Easton.


He married Carol Maurer.


He received his MD from the University of Buffalo.


He published his first paper regarding the use of catgut in the perineum.


He and John Bumstead conducted the first successful clinical penicillin treatment.


He returned back to New Haven to continue his research in Yale.


Hess, along with Edward Hon, invented the world’s first, fetal heart monitor system.


He was awarded the ‘Scientific Achievement Award’ from the ‘American Medical Association’.


He died on September 6, 2002.

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