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Dr. Jesse Edwards of Rochester, who established the Heart Registry -- a collection of more than 22,000 hearts at St. Paul's United Hospital--made an impact around the world on the study and treatment of heart disease.

At Rochester's Mayo Clinic in the early 1950s, he was a member of the first open-heart surgery team. His description of complex congenital heart defects and collaboration with the first cardiac surgeons opened the door for surgical correction.

The world-renowned author, cardiac pathologist and expert on heart disease died of heart failure on Sunday in Rochester. The longtime St. Paul resident was 96.

Edwards made pathology, or the anatomy of the problem, relevant to doctors who were treating patients, said his son, Dr. Brooks Edwards, Mayo cardiologist and director of Mayo's heart transplant program.

"He was the driving force in understanding the future path of heart disease," said his son.

Jesse Edwards moved to St. Paul in the early 1960s and established the Heart Registry, where heart specialists from around the world have come to study specimens of almost every kind of heart disease. That collection is now known as the Jesse E. Edwards Registry for Cardiovascular Disease.

In 1997, while recovering from a heart attack, Edwards couldn't turn down a call for help from a doctor who was stumped by a problem in a patient's heart valve. Edwards concluded that the valve was probably injured during a previous surgery.

"That came from knowledge of the specimens," he said in a 1997 Star Tribune article.

Edwards was also a professor with the University of Minnesota School of Medicine. At the registry, his students -- often experienced doctors -- gathered around gratefully when Edwards wanted to explain something, with a specimen in hand.

"Of all the titles he had, I think he appreciated the title of educator more than any other," said his son.

Edwards loved to fish and garden, and turned those activities into teachable moments with his family: Cleaning fish with his children became an anatomy lesson.

Dr. Dan Foley, vice president of medical affairs for United Hospitals, who now oversees the heart collection, once was a resident under Edwards. "This changed my life," said Foley. "In the early 1970s, he was a giant in his field, working with the likes of Dr. C. Walton Lillehei and Dr. Michael De Bakey."

"He could draw it out of you, have you think," said Foley. "Every day, he was pushing you a little further, so you would understand."

Edwards also wrote 16 books and served as the president of the American Heart Association in the late 1960s. During World War II, he was an Army medical officer and was part of a war crimes team that went to the Dachau concentration camp, near Munich, three days after its liberation. He testified at war crimes tribunals, helping to convict many Nazis, said his family.

In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife, Marjorie, of Rochester; daughter, Ellen Edwards Villa of Bethesda, Md., and five grandchildren.

Services will be held at noon today at Mount Zion Temple, 1300 Summit Av., St. Paul. Shiva will be held at 7 p.m. today at the temple and at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Charter House, 211 2nd St. NW., Rochester.