Dr. J. Crayton Pruitt Sr.

Dr. Pruitt family
Dr. Pruitt with his children in 2006 (left to right): Natalie, Crayton Jr. and Helen.

Dr. J. Crayton Pruitt Sr. in 2006.

On an ordinary night in 1995, J. Crayton Pruitt Sr. went to bed thinking he was in perfect health. He awoke the next morning weak and unable to stand. He’d had a heart attack while he slept. Doctors quickly performed coronary bypass surgery, but three days later his heart slipped into ventricular fibrillation. Pruitt was flown by helicopter to Shands Hospital at UF, where a surgeon connected him to a biventricular assist device that would keep him alive while he waited for a donor heart.

The biventricular assist device is an example of biomedical engineering. Fusing engineering with medicine, it focuses on the search for new materials, techniques and technologies to improve health care. In 1995, the apparatus was the size of a washing machine and sat at the foot of Pruitt’s bed.

Today’s assist devices are small enough to be entirely implanted into patients.

Pruitt is an accomplished cardiothoracic surgeon, researcher and inventor. He moved to St. Petersburg in 1963 and soon built a thriving private surgical practice. Pruitt devoted his career to the treatment of stroke. His father suffered a debilitating series of strokes, which motivated Pruitt to vigorously research methods of improving available technology. He pioneered the surgical treatment of carotid artery arteriosclerosis for stroke prevention and is thought to have performed more of these surgeries than any other surgeon in the world.

Dr. Pruitt history
LEFT: Dr. Pruitt (left) is an accomplished cardiothoracic surgeon. He is pictured above (middle) with Dr. Alberto Elizalde at St. Petersburg General Hospital. In the late 1970s, Dr. Pruitt became increasingly dissatisfied with shunts used during surgery to keep blood flowing through the carotid artery. Metal clamps held them in place, which could damage artery walls. They also sometimes scraped into the bloodstream the particles he was trying to remove, putting the patient at risk for a stroke during surgery. So, Dr. Pruitt co-created the Pruitt-Inahara Carotid Shunt, which uses balloons to stay positioned and includes a side arm to divert stray particles. It is now one of the most widely used shunts of its kind. 

Ten days after Pruitt arrived in Gainesville, a woman in the Florida Panhandle suffered a stroke and died. Her heart was donated to Pruitt.

The experience left him with deep appreciation for biomedical engineering and for UF. In 2000, Pruitt expressed his gratitude through his first donation to the biomedical engineering graduate program at UF’s College of Engineering. Largely because of his $2 million gift, in 2002 Biomedical Engineering became a department. In Dec. 2005, he and his children, Crayton Jr.,  Helen and Natalie, added to the first gift, bringing the family’s total investment in Biomedical Engineering to $10 million.

Dr. Pruitt passed away on October 8, 2011 at the age of 79.