Gerald “Jerry” E. McGinnis, founder of Respironics and creator of the first mass-produced CPAP machine to treat sleep apnea, died on Jan 25 at age 89 from Parkinson’s disease complications. 

Respironics, established in 1976, gained recognition as an industry leader in sleep apnea therapy. Forbes Magazine recognized the company as the 5th Best Private Company shortly before Respironics’ public debut on the Nasdaq Exchange in 1987, as noted in McGinnis’ obituary

In 2004, McGinnis was honored with two awards recognizing his entrepreneurial commitment and spirit. He received the Entrepreneur of the Year award from Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pa, and the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh presented him with the Entrepreneur Award as part of its Awards for Excellence.

In 2007, Respironics was acquired by Royal Philips Electronics, subsequently rebranding as Philips Respironics. In an article published just last month, McGinnis told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the ongoing Philips Respironics CPAP recall is a “disappointment and embarrassment.” “If you hurt somebody, the game is over,” he told the Post-Gazette. “You’ve got to take responsibility.”

Raised in Ottawa, Ill, McGinnis started his mechanical engineering studies at Illinois Valley Community College, notes his obituary. He served in the Army during the Korean War, which enabled him to use the GI Bill to continue his education. He earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois and a Master’s from the University of Pittsburgh, while in a work-study program at Westinghouse.

His career began in the research and development department at Westinghouse. In 1963, he took on the role of manager of the bioengineering department, shifting his focus to medical product development. In 1969, he joined Allegheny General Hospital as head of the surgical research department, working in artificial heart research. In 1971, he started his first company, Lanz Medical Products, in his home, where he developed his first two medical devices—a ceramic anesthesia mask and a tracheotomy tube—using his kitchen stove as a makeshift kiln.

“As an entrepreneur, Jerry had learned firsthand the need to find the right problem to solve, and the emerging awareness of sleep apnea disorder provided him with his ultimate arena,” his obituary reads. 

McGinnis’ impact on the sleep and respiratory field extended beyond his inventions, leaving a lasting impression on his peers and colleagues for his patient-centric approach, dedication to science, and unwavering character. “He is a legendary inventor, engineer, and entrepreneur, but unlike some, he was focused on patients, science, and most importantly character,” says sleep specialist William Noah, MD, a longtime friend of McGinnis’. “The respiratory and sleep field owes him so much. He was also such an encourager. In fact, last month, his last words to me were, ‘Go for it!’”

Philips Respironics has not yet responded to a request for comment on McGinnis’ death.

A celebration of life will be held at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania on McGinnis’ 90th birthday, Sunday, March 17, at 4 pm.

The family suggests donations be made in his memory to the Parkinson’s Foundation instead of flowers. Contributions can be sent to Parkinson’s Foundation, Attn: Donor Services, 200 SE 1st Street, Suite 800, Miami, Fla, 33131, or made online at www.parkinson.org.

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