Alan Conlan obituary: One of the leading thoracic surgeons of his generation

Wexford-born surgeon published extensively and pioneered important work

Born: July 23rd, 1942

Died : April 18th, 2022

Dr Andrew Alan Conlan, one of the leading thoracic surgeons of his generation, was born in Wexford, to Michael and Anastasia Conlan. Following secondary school in Christian Brothers College in Tullamore, he graduated from UCC's school of medicine in 1966.

Dr Conlan completed his residency at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, under Dr Christiaan Barnard, and was present at the time Dr Barnard performed the world's first heart transplant in 1967.


From 1973 to 1978 he pursued his cardiothoracic surgery training at the London School of Medicine, Mayo Clinic and New York University Medical Centre. Returning to South Africa, he served 10 years as chief thoracic surgeon in the Johannesburg teaching hospitals, establishing a new thoracic surgery service and training programmes at the University of the Witwatersrand. With a growing CV and professional reputation, he was widely sought after, and in 1988 he was offered the opportunity to serve as head of cardiothoracic surgery and professor at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

In 1994 he was appointed as chief of thoracic surgery at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre and UMass Memorial Healthcare, where he remained until 2006, retiring as professor emeritus and an acknowledged expert in his field of surgery.

Dr Conlan published extensively throughout his career and completed pioneering and important work in the treatment of massive haemoptysis, inflammatory lung disease, oesophageal cancer and video thoracoscopic pneumonectomy, in particular.

The training and tutoring Dr Conlan willingly and enthusiastically gave to young medics during his career ensures his legacy lives on and some of the techniques and technologies he helped pioneer continue in operating theatres around the world.

Along with his passion for healing and science, Dr Conlan was an avid reader, and possessed an encyclopaedic knowledge. He was known also as an animated storyteller. He always loved a good adventure and was in his element when off-roading in the African bush.

Family lore tells that he went on honeymoon to Rhodesia (as it was then known), and decided to bring his mother-in-law along, a sign, his family says, of just how far his generosity of spirit extended.

On one of his last trips home to Ireland, he spent time researching his family history, meeting some of his former classmates in UCC as part of a 50-year reunion and spending a memorable evening telling stories and singing songs with his beloved siblings.

The many online and in-person tributes paid to Dr Conlan since his passing note his sense of humour, his intellect, his modesty, his kindness and his intuition.


Lifelong friend John Power, who first met Alan in the 1950s when the Conlans inherited a small cottage in Wexford, delivered the eulogy at his funeral Mass in Raleigh, North Carolina.

He remembered Alan as a child who, while always planning their next adventures, was also quietly nourishing his intellect. When the rest of the children were reading comic books, Alan was reading about the Huguenots, and was a boy who always had vision beyond his years.

When he finished secondary school it was his mother, whom he remained devoted to throughout her life, who encouraged him to try his hand at medicine. Dr AA Conlan had found his calling.

He is survived by his sisters Brenda Long, Nuala Brummitt, Madeleine Johnston and his brother Michael Conlan; his life partner Christallo Conlan, his three children Anastasia, Michael and Dominic, his son-in-law Paul, his daughters-in-law Kelly and Moira, his nieces and nephews, his eight grandchildren Nicolas, Dominic, Katie, Daniel, Benjamin, Andrew, Chloe and Michael, as well as his many friends and colleagues from his brilliant career.