AAMI Founder, Cardiac Surgeon Remembered for Lasting Contributions to the Field

Posted January 12, 2018

W. Gerald Rainer

W. Gerald Rainer, a renowned Denver heart surgeon and founding AAMI member, died suddenly of natural causes on Nov. 14, 2017, the day after his 90th birthday.

Rainer, who earned his medical degree in 1948 from the University of Tennessee, practiced thoracic and cardiovascular surgery for 50 years at Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver. Colleagues said he was a respected leader, researcher, and educator who mentored countless residents, fellows, and many other healthcare professionals throughout his career.

“Dr. Rainer was a dedicated surgeon and will always remain the model of how one can combine a successful clinical practice with an insatiable professional curiosity, pursuit of knowledge, and love of life,” according to an obituary published in The Denver Post.

Rainer also was a dedicated AAMI member, attending many of the association’s earliest meetings and joining the Board of Directors in 1969. He later went on to serve as Board chair from 1972–1973 and chaired the Harken Memorial Awards Committee well into the 21st century.

“Dr. Gerald Rainer was one of the many early leaders at AAMI who would take on any important responsibility that the association asked of him,” said Mike Miller, AAMI’s first president and CEO. “There were many times when we asked him to take on important responsibilities that were critically important to AAMI's development and success in its very early years.”

For example, Rainer provided vital leadership for AAMI’s standards program, serving as the first chair of the AAMI Standards Board, and was instrumental in the creation and development of the first international technical subcommittee dedicated to developing cardiovascular implant standards.

“This subcommittee and related efforts laid the foundation for very important national and international standards and educational efforts, and to important relationships with many national, foreign, and international organizations,” Miller said.

Rainer was also “one of the most active AAMI supporters of efforts leading to the passage of the Medical Device Amendments of 1976,” according to attorney and consultant Larry Pilot, an expert on FDA regulations and a longtime member of AAMI.

Rainer, as a representative of AAMI, testified before a Senate subcommittee about this initial medical device legislation and worked tirelessly to make it relevant to the industry and patients. He was instrumental in the success of the 1969 Bethesda Conference, which served as the foundation for the Cooper report and an approach to regulation that did not unnecessarily restrict medical device innovation and use, according to former colleagues.  

“He was one of a small number of prominent surgeons from the cardiovascular and orthopedic community who devoted their time and resources to ensure that the recommendations of the Cooper Committee were successfully codified into law and regulation,” Pilot said.

Even more than his many professional contributions, Rainer is best remembered by early AAMI leaders for his charisma and charm.

“Gerry was always a congenial travel companion and social personality who easily became a friend of anyone he met,” Pilot said.

“He was a wonderful person to work with, with a great sense of humor but also with a sense of dignity and gentlemanly manner that few possess,” Miller remembered. “He and I made time from professional activities for fun sailing on the Potomac and racquetball. What a great and fun guy.”

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the St. Joseph Hospital Foundation, Colorado Symphony Orchestra, or the Department of Surgery at the University of Colorado.