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Dr. C. Joan Coggin

Photo courtesy of Loma Linda University Health News.

Coggin, Charlotte Joan (1928–2018)

By Richard A. Schaefer

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Richard A. Schaefer, B.A. (La Sierra College). Director of Community Relations, Loma Linda University Medical Center, 1976-2000. Historian, Loma Linda University Health, 2000 to the present. President, Loma Linda Chamber of Commerce, 2008-2010. Commissioner, City of Loma Linda Historical Commission, 2008-2020. Schaefer’s numerous books include LEGACY (heritage of Loma University Medical Center), Service is Our Calling (50th anniversary of Loma University School of Dentistry), A Century of Caring (history of Loma Linda University School of Nursing), Glory of the Vision (history of Loma Linda University School of Medicine), and Protons: A Beam of HopeCREATION: “Behold It Was Very Good.” Schaefer is a prolific author, public relations professional, and public speaker who has presented and represented Loma Linda University history for over 50 years.

First Published: August 28, 2021

Dr. C. Joan Coggin, pediatric cardiologist, co-founded the Loma Linda University Overseas Heart Surgery Team which initiated and upgraded open-heart surgery programs in hospitals around the world.

Early Life and Education

Charlotte Joan Coggin was born August 6, 1928, to Charles B. and Nanette Coggin, at Washington Sanitarium and Hospital in Takoma Park, Maryland. Her parents were in school at Washington Missionary College (now Washington Adventist University). She grew up in Los Angeles, except for two years when her father was a student physician in Loma Linda. She had no siblings.1

As a child, Joan knew only medical students and doctors and nurses, and always wanted to be a doctor. She got to know many of the faculty at the College of Medical Evangelists (CME, now Loma Linda University). Of these she most adored Percy T. Magan, though she did not know he was the school’s president. “We just became real pals,” she recalled of the time she was between 4 and 6 years old.2

Joan attended White Memorial Elementary School and Lynwood Academy in Los Angeles. She graduated from Washington Missionary College in 1948 and started medical school at CME later that year. She finished medical school in 1952, but because physicians didn’t get their diploma until they had completed internship, she is listed in the class of 1953-A.

The Making of a Pediatric Cardiologist

From 1952 to 1955, Dr. Coggin took her residency at Los Angeles County General Hospital and Los Angeles Children’s Hospital. She then took a one-year fellowship at the White Memorial, Los Angeles County General, and Los Angeles Children’s Hospitals.

When Dr. Coggin began her career, less than 5 percent of medical school graduates in America were women. In 1958 she was board certified in pediatrics by the American Board of Pediatrics. From 1955 to 1956 she completed additional study at Hammersmith Hospital in London, England, and from 1956 to 1957, a fellowship at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. In 1987 she earned a Master’s of Public Health degree from Loma Linda University School of Public Health.

Her father, Charles B. Coggin, M.D., ingrained in her mind the importance of medical research, and she authored or coauthored more than 50 scientific articles published in peer-reviewed publications. She wrote and lectured extensively through membership in civic, community, and professional organizations, as a recognized authority in cardiology.3

The Loma Linda University Overseas Heart Surgery Team

When the heart-lung machine made open-heart surgery possible, Joan’s cardiac surgeon friends told her, “You’re usually in the operating room anyway to see how the patient is doing. Why don’t you just run the heart-lung machine?” Because it sounded like fun, she did.

Coggin thus was part of the cardiac surgery team, headed by Dr. Ellsworth Wareham, when it began operating once a week at Los Angeles County General Hospital, a mile away from the White Memorial Hospital. To do this, they had to transport everything in the back of Dr. Wareham’s station wagon. The packing and unpacking was a chore, but it occurred to them that if they could move it one mile, they could move it thousands of miles. They began considering, “What would we need to do differently to go around the world?”4

After a Pakistani girl was transported to the White Memorial Hospital for corrective surgery, many other requests for the life-saving surgery followed. However, the costs and logistics of bringing all the potential patients and their parents to America were prohibitive. Dr. Arthur W. Weaver (CME Class of 1953), chief surgeon at Karachi Seventh-day Adventist Hospital, thus proposed that the Loma Linda University heart team come to Pakistan. Wareham conferred with Coggin, and they agreed that if transportation for a six-person medical team and all the equipment necessary for open-heart surgery could be funded, they would spend their vacations helping the people of Asia.

With funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Agency for International Development (USAID), and additional help from Vice President Lyndon Johnson, the Loma Linda University Overseas Heart Surgery Team became a reality, landing in Karachi, Pakistan, on May 2, 1963.5 Further support came in the form of medical supplies donated by pharmaceutical companies.

In the first two days the team performed four surgeries—as many as they would have performed in a week at home. In 22 operating days, they performed 44 heart surgeries. Working 16 to 20 hours a day, they also saw 300 patients in clinic. Pakistani President Mohammad Ayub Kahn flew one of the patients from East Pakistan by military transport.

Not only did the team inaugurate heart surgery in Pakistan, but they also taught surgical techniques to scores of Pakistani physicians who had visited the hospital. These visiting physicians founded the Pakistan Heart Institute to train their national counterparts.

Before returning to California, the team also performed surgeries in India and Thailand. Altogether on this inaugural trip they saw 400 Asian patients and performed 55 surgeries—on their vacation.

In 1970, the team set up a heart surgery program in Athens, Greece, at the 1,500-bed Evangelismos Hospital.6 Altogether, during the first five years of the program, more than 800 patients underwent heart surgery.

In 1976 the Saudi Arabian Department of Defense invited the team to make two trips to Hamis Musayt, where they conducted the first heart surgery ever performed in Saudi Arabia and a total of 86 surgeries in four months. The Royal Saudi Arabian Air Force transported patients from all over Saudi Arabia for the life-saving surgery.7 Later, eight Saudi Arabian technician trainees spent 65 weeks at Loma Linda University Medical Center to enhance their clinical experience.

The China Project

In 1982 the Loma Linda University Overseas Heart Surgery Team entered a medical exchange program with the People’s Republic of China.8 Dr. Coggin, then serving as assistant to the president for International Affairs at Loma Linda University, made approximately twenty trips to China in connection with what became known as the China Project.

The project extended beyond heart surgery to involve health education and establishment of the 400-bed Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital that opened in Hangzhou in 1993 under the management of Loma Linda University Medical Center.9 Dr. Coggin observed that the primary challenge in getting the hospital established was introducing many people into a completely new milieu of hospital operations—the combination of Eastern and Western medicine. Some of the practices of Western medicine, such as simply keeping patients and members of their families informed (which was unheard of in China) became a standard practice at Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital and were greatly appreciated by the hospital’s clientele.10

Loma Linda University improved the quality of hospital care throughout the entire People’s Republic of China, both indirectly and directly. It introduced to China laparoscopic surgery, physical therapy, trauma care, respiratory care, physical therapy, dental sterile techniques, dental hygiene, patient privacy, and patient-centered, whole-person care. It reduced the Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital’s length of stay by more than 50 percent. It became the first public hospital in China to be accredited by Joint Commission International (JCI). The Chinese government noticed and not only raised its own hospital standards to match, but also required the larger hospitals to mentor the smaller ones. The impact of JCI accreditation has influenced hospital care throughout the country.

The Chinese government eventually sent more than 12,000 hospital administrators, physicians, and quality care personnel to Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital (SRRSH) to observe and learn, spending from a few weeks up to six months. By 2016, 20,000 nurses, sometimes as many as 80 at a time, have updated their nursing skills at SRRSH.11

In 2004, Dr. Coggin concluded half a century of service at Loma Linda as a teacher, administrator, and goodwill ambassador. That same year she was named professor emerita, Department of Medicine, School of Medicine, and Loma Linda University Health presented her with the President’s Award. Because she became a consultant to the television and motion picture industries for medically oriented programs, she was presented with the Golden Eagle Cine Award at the Venice Film Festival.

Additional recognitions of her accomplishments have included the Distinguished University Service Award from Loma Linda University; a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Adventist Women; the Outstanding Woman of the Year in Science Award from the California Museum of Science and Industry; the Zella Hobert Award from Columbia Union College; the Honorary Doctor of Humanitarian Service from La Sierra University; and the Gold Medal of Health Award from the Ministry of Health of South Vietnam.12

Legacy

Dr. C. Joan Coggin died on November 29, 2018 at the age of 90. Her legacy is a profound contribution to international cardiac health, to cardiac surgery, and to the health of children worldwide.

The Overseas Heart Surgery Team that she co-founded and eventually directed has, according to Loma Linda University Health, performed more heart surgeries in more countries than any other similar organization. The nations in which the team has worked include Chile, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Pakistan, the People’s Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.13

“Joan Coggin was an icon at Loma Linda University,” stated Richard Hart, president of Loma Linda University Health. “Her passion for helping those in need and her dedication to teaching others how to enhance the level of care in their countries leave a legacy around the world. She will also be remembered for her sense of humor, which infected those with whom she came into contact and even helped to ease tense situations.”14

Near the end of her remarkable career, Dr. Coggin testified of her faith in God. “I know that I must rely on God. When you’re so far from home, so far from what is familiar, that is when you feel closest to God. I have seen a lot of suffering, of course, but I’ve seen a lot of miracles…. I don’t understand suffering, but I trust God, and that is all that matters.”15

Sources

Coggin C. Joan (as told to Penny Estes Wheeler). “An Open Heart for the Impossible, A retro look at the first globetrotting open-heart surgery team.” Women of Spirit, March/April 2001.

Hsu, Eugene. “What are Seventh-day Adventists Doing in China?” ARH, July 6, 1995.

Weismeyer, Richard. “LLU Heart Team Completes Surgeries.” ARH, November 25, 1976.

Weismeyer, Richard W. “Loma Linda Heart Team Makes Friends in China.” ARH, July 1, 1982.

Yuen, Nancy. “In Memoriam: Coggin, 90, helped take open-heart surgery team overseas.” Loma Linda University Health News, November 30, 2018.

Notes

  1. Nancy Yuen, “In Memoriam: Coggin, 90, helped take open-heart surgery team overseas,” Loma Linda University Health News, November 30, 2018.

  2. C. Joan Coggin, MD, interview by author, June 11, 2007, Loma Linda, California.

  3. Yuen, “In Memoriam: Coggin, 90, helped take open-heart surgery team overseas.”

  4. C. Joan Coggin (as told to Penny Estes Wheeler), “An Open Heart for the Impossible, A retro look at the first globetrotting open-heart surgery team,” Women of Spirit, March/April, 2001, 19-21.

  5. Richard W. Weismeyer, “Loma Linda University Heart Team makes friends in China,” ARH, July 1, 1982, 20.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Richard Weismeyer, “LLU Heart Team Completes Surgeries,” ARH, November 25, 1976, 18.

  8. Weismeyer, “Loma Linda University Heart Team makes friends in China,” 18.

  9. Eugene Hsu, “What are Seventh-day Adventists Doing in China?,” ARH, July 6, 1995, 11.

  10. Richard A. Schaefer, “Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital Celebrates 20th Anniversary: An Effective Partnership with a Shared Vision,” pre-publication manuscript.

  11. Yang Lili, Teleconference with Global Health Institute, February 25, 2016.

  12. Yuen, “In Memoriam: Coggin, 90, helped take open-heart surgery team overseas.”

  13. Ibid.

  14. Ibid.

  15. Coggin, “An Open Heart for the Impossible.”

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Schaefer, Richard A. "Coggin, Charlotte Joan (1928–2018)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. August 28, 2021. Accessed June 13, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=GHSD.

Schaefer, Richard A. "Coggin, Charlotte Joan (1928–2018)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. August 28, 2021. Date of access June 13, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=GHSD.

Schaefer, Richard A. (2021, August 28). Coggin, Charlotte Joan (1928–2018). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved June 13, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=GHSD.