PITTSBURGH – As reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and elsewhere, Gerald E. “Jerry” McGinnis, a biomedical engineer and founder of Respironics, died Jan. 25 from complications of Parkinson’s disease. He was 89.
“His early work in trying to find a way to create a device that would take the place of the invasive endotracheal tube – a device that often damaged the windpipe – would lead to the development of his celebrated continuous positive airway pressure machine, or CPAP,” writes Post-Gazette reporter Michael Korsh. “Respironics, the medical device company he founded in 1976, acted as a harbinger of Pittsburgh’s economic redevelopment during the late 20th century, as it transitioned from a steel town into an incubator for emerging biotechnology.”
According to his obituary: Jerry grew up in Ottawa, Illinois, a small midwestern town along the Illinois river. He began his mechanical engineering studies at the Illinois Valley Community College. He then joined the Army, serving in the Korean War, to use the GI Bill to continue his education. Having earned his BSME from the University of Illinois, Jerry entered a work-study program at Westinghouse that sponsored his MSME at the University of Pittsburgh.
He began his career at Westinghouse in Research and Development. In 1963 he became manager of the Bioengineering Department which launched his career in medical product development. In 1969 he joined Allegheny General Hospital as head of the Surgical Research Department conducting research on artificial hearts. In 1971 he founded his first company – Lanz Medical Products – in his home. His first two devices were a ceramic anesthesia mask and a tracheotomy tube developed using his family’s kitchen stove as a kiln.