published Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Erlanger marks heart care milestone

by Emily Bregel

In 1960, when Chattanooga's first open-heart surgery was performed at Erlanger hospital, it took a team of 12 health professionals, a $45,000 artificial heart-pump machine and 19 blood donors who'd donated that day to keep the patient alive during surgery.

A week later, the patient was up and ready to go home, recounted Erlanger's President and CEO Jim Brexler at a Tuesday event recognizing the hospital's 50th year of providing heart care.


* Dr. Walter Puckett

* Dr. Mitchell Mutter

* Dr. Michael Zema

* Dr. Kinsman Wright

* Dr. Carol Gruver

* Dr. Chris Klugewicz

* Dr. William Blalock

* Dr. Walter Few

* Dr. David Gbadebo

* Dr. John Golding

* Dr. Michael Love

The procedure marked the start of the hospital's cardiology program, which today is undergoing a major reinvestment by hospital leaders.

"Erlanger really hadn't put the emphasis on [the cardiology program] that they are now," said Dr. Michael Love, who along with four colleagues from Cardiovascular Care Center has recently joined Erlanger's new cardiology practice.

"They've always had a great cardiac program," he said. "Now the effort is to make it a premiere cardiac center, which they've never done before. I think everybody's behind them to do it, from administration, to the board, to the employees."

Brexler introduced all the members of the hospital's adult cardiology practice, UT-Erlanger Cardiology, which now has 11 members. The practice is part of an effort to build an in-house network of specialty practices at Erlanger, which has tripled its number of employed physicians in the past three years.

Earlier this year, hospital trustees approved $1 million to construct a space for the cardiology practice in the hospital's downtown medical mall.

On Tuesday, hospital leaders also recognized those who helped develop cardiac care here, including the late Dr. James Headrick.

His son, local thoracic surgeon Rob Headrick, noted the improbability that a city as small as Chattanooga would do open-heart surgery just a few years after the surgery was pioneered in 1955.

"The best analogy I can give is Green Bay, Wis., saying, 'We want a pro football team,'" he said.

At Tuesday's event, the hospital displayed historic cardiac equipment, including one of the country's first heart-lung machines, which was in use almost 50 years ago at Erlanger.

The machine, in pieces and covered in dirt, turned up in the basement of one of the surgeons who performed the first open-heart surgery after his wife died, Headrick said.

The hospital will make a permanent display featuring the historic equipment, said spokeswoman Pat Charles.

about Emily Bregel...

Health care reporter Emily Bregel has worked at the Chattanooga Times Free Press since July 2006. She previously covered banking and wrote for the Life section. Emily, a native of Baltimore, Md., earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Columbia University. She received a first-place award for feature writing from the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists’ Golden Press Card Contest for a 2009 article about a boy with a congenital heart defect. She ...

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