An internationally recognized leader in the fields of artificial hearts and circulatory support systems, Laman Gray, Jr. M.D. performed the first heart transplant in Kentucky in 1984 and, in 2001, his surgical team implanted the first fully implantable replacement heart, the AbioCorTM. While leading the Jewish Hospital team that developed the AbioCorTM and serving as director of the Division of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery at the University of Louisville, a post he held for over 33 years, Dr. Gray spent his off-hours creating elaborate models of historic British ships.
He works in a method called scratch building, creating each part of the ship out of wood, rope, paper, and paint to replicate the details of the interiors and exteriors of the ships. Though he carves and paints decorative features, cannons, and anchors and spends hours making and tying rope for the riggings, Dr. Gray credits the individuals who create the plans from which he works with making this detail possible. The plans are based on research into the historic ships and the building process outlined in the plans replicates the original construction methods of the ships. “The key for scratch building, in my opinion, is getting a good set of plans,” says Dr. Gray. “If you have a good, detailed set of plans, they will really tell you how to build the model – then you learn through a lot of mistakes how to make it better. One of the reasons I make models of British ships is because they’re among the best-researched ships. The way I make the models is exactly the same as how the original ship was built. The models are made of the exact same pieces, put together in the same way in many respects, except it’s all in miniature.”
Working with his hands to create the numerous pieces of the ships, planning out their construction, and solving the challenges he encounters, has some similarities to Dr. Gray’s first love of cardiac surgery, but spending his evenings and weekends with his mind and hands engaged in this creative pursuit has enabled him to relax from the stress of his critical medical work. Now that he no longer practices surgery, Dr. Gray continues to take on new challenges, contributing to developments in cardiac research through his work with the University of Louisville Cardiovascular Innovation Institute and building a new ship, a model of an 1860s American clipper ship.