André Frédéric Cournand, physician, cardiologist, and Nobel Laureate was born in Paris on September 24, 1895 to Jules Cournand, a dental surgeon, and his wife Marguérite Weber. He received his B.A. from the University of Paris in 1914 and then served for three and a half years during the First World War as an auxiliary battalion surgeon, eventually winning the Croix de Guerre with three bronze stars.
Cournand entered medical school at the University of Paris in 1919. He became an Intern in the Hôpitaux de Paris in 1926 and received his medical degree in 1930. While in school, Cournand also became involved in an artistic circle that included painters, sculptors and musicians. It was here he met his first wife, Sybille, the daughter of gallery owner Jeanne Bucher and pianist Fritz Blumer.
Upon graduation from medical school, Cournand accepted a residency in the renowned Chest Service of New York’s Bellevue Hospital. There he met Dickinson Richards (1895-1973), a 1923 graduate of Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons (P&S) who was already an experienced research scientist. Offered a place in Richards’ group studying pulmonary physiology in 1932, Cournand decided to remain in the US. He was naturalized in 1941, but retained close ties to his country of birth.
Together Richards, Cournand, and their laboratory colleagues embarked on a quarter century of investigations into the physiology and pathophysiology of the cardiopulmonary system. They are best known for their development of cardiac catheterization as a tool for measuring blood pressure in the heart. Werner Forssmann, a German surgeon, had performed the first cardiac catheterization on himself in 1929, but his superiors forbade him to continue his work. It was left to Richards and Cournand beginning in 1940 to do the first extensive cardiac catheterizations on human subjects. By 1944 they had performed over 250 catheterizations on humans, demonstrating that it could be done safely and helping to make it today’s valuable and common diagnostic tool in cardiopulmonary disease. For their work, Cournand, Richards, and Forssmann received the 1956 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology.
In 1935, Cournand was appointed Instructor in Medicine at P&S as a member of the Columbia-staffed First Division of Bellevue Hospital. He was made full Professor in 1951 and received an honorary doctor of science degree from the University in 1965.
After his retirement from Columbia in 1964, Cournand remained active in a wide variety of organizations. He lectured and wrote extensively on the “Prospective” method of planning the future, a discipline originating with the French philosopher Gaston Berger, whose writings he translated into English. He became deeply interested in the ethical aspects of science, resulting in his influential article “The Code of the Scientist and its Relationship with Ethics,” published in Science in 1977. He also wrote an auto-biography, From Roots…To Late Budding: The Intellectual Adventures of a Medical Scientist, published in 1986.
Besides the Nobel Prize, Cournand received numerous honors including the Lasker Award (1950), the John Phillips Memorial Award of the American College of Physicians (1962), and the Trudeau Medal of the American Thoracic Society (1971). He was a Commander of the Legion of Honor, member of the National Academy of Sciences, and an honorary member or fellow of numerous foreign medical and scientific societies.
Cournand’s first wife, Sybille Blumer, died in 1959: they had three children and Cournand adopted her son, Pierre, by a previous marriage. In 1963, he married Ruth Fabian who died suddenly in 1973. Two years later he married Beatrice Bishop Berle, a long-time friend, the widow of New Deal lawyer Adolf Berle, and herself a physician.
Cournand died February 19, 1988 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, survived by his wife and three children.