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Friday, Sep 30, 2022

No. 15 , Donald Shiley

Estimated net worth: $400 million

Donald Shiley made his fortune with the invention of the first artificial heart valve in 1971 , and a series of inventions to manufacture and improve the valve. With money from devices for the heart, Shiley and his wife, Darlene, have spent the past decades giving from their hearts.

In March, they set a new record for the Old Globe Theater with a $20 million donation. In January, they committed another $5 million to UC San Diego’s opthalmology center, bringing their donations to UCSD close to $15 million. But UCSD was just one of the schools the Shileys have supported. They’ve given more than $10 million to the University of San Diego, helping build a theater and, in 2002, the school’s science and technology center.

Born in Yakima, Wash., Shiley and his two brothers grew up on a farm with a 5-acre orchard of fruit trees. They spent a large part of their youth picking peaches and pears , so much so that Shiley told the University of Portland’s alumni association he hasn’t eaten either fruit in 80 years.

“I was the one who fixed things. Stuff breaks down, you know, and you either pay someone to fix it or you fix it,” he told the alum publication. “But I liked machines. I liked the way they are ideas that get built.”

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Shiley attended the University of Oregon for a year, then joined the Navy. When he was discharged, he enrolled in the University of Portland, graduating with an engineering degree in 1951 and went to work for a medical engineering firm, working on tracheotomy tubes and other medical marvels.

Four years later, the heart lung machine came into service, making complex heart surgery possible for the first time. By 1960, Shiley, with partners Lowell Edwards and Dr. Albert Starr, had invented the first artificial mitral valve, the forerunner of the Bjork-Shiley heart valve.

Shiley started his own company in 1964, working with heart surgeons to perfect artificial heart valves. The idea for the tilting disc heart valve that made his fortune came as Shiley was sitting in his recliner. He sketched the valve, and by 1971, had started producing it.

In 1978, Shiley sold the company to Pfizer and married Darlene. A widower with four children, he’d fallen for Darlene , an actress and performer. He met her backstage after a performance of “The Lion in Winter,” and courted her, finally persuading her to return to the Catholic Church, where they were wed.

“In all the years since then I cannot remember a day when Donald wasn’t as calm and open and gracious as the night I met him for the first time backstage,” Darlene told an interviewer.

The couple lives in a penthouse near Balboa Park, and run the family foundation, which has quietly poured millions of dollars into education and community events, including the 1996 presidential debate held at USD, and theater groups.

, Marty Graham


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