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March 13, 2012 -- 5:55pm PDT

Geoff Hartzler, Angioplasty Pioneer: In Memoriam
Geoffrey O. Hartzler, MD
Geoffrey O. Hartzler, MD
Anyone reading this, whose life has been saved by an emergency angioplasty, a procedure which stops a heart attack in its tracks, should pause for a moment in remembrance of and thanks to Dr. Geoffrey Hartzler, an early pioneer of angioplasty, who in 1980 first opened up a patient's blocked coronary artery during an acute myocardial infarction (video below). Dr. Hartzler passed away on Saturday, March 10, at age 65. I knew he had been fighting cancer, but I was saddened to read the news, first reported earlier today by Mike O'Riordan on

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Geoff was truly a pioneer because, at the time, conventional wisdom argued against putting a balloon (this was pre-stent) into an artery that was causing an infarct. But he did, and he saved his patient's heart and probably his life. Angioplasty has since become the "gold standard" for the emergency treatment of acute myocardial infarction. It has radically changed the prognosis for heart attack patients, virtually eliminating the devastating effects of an acute MI, if treatment is administered in time.

Through his live demonstration courses at the Mid-America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Missouri, Geoff taught these techniques to thousands of interventional cardiologists in the first decades of this procedure.

He also played a mean bass guitar.

An interesting side-light came up in a conversation we had when I interviewed Geoff a number of years ago for my documentary, "PTCA: A History". In the beginning decades of balloon angioplasty, there were two competing companies in the U.S.: USCI, a division of C.R. Bard, and ACS, founded by John Simpson, which subsequently became Guidant and now is Abbott Vascular. USCI manufactured the Gruentzig balloons and worked with Andreas Gruentzig, the father of coronary angioplasty, in developing new devices. Geoff Hartzler, John Simpson et al worked with ACS, and the competition was as fierce, actually fiercer, as the "Stent Wars" of today.

I asked Geoff about this in our interview and he confided to me that the "competition" between him and Gruentzig was very much set up by the companies. The fact was that he and Andreas Gruentzig were colleagues, and Gruentzig encouraged him to push the envelope, as long as he reported his results to the medical community. He looked upon Gruentzig as a friend and supporter, not a competitor.

Following is an excerpt from my interview with Geoff Hartzler, in which he describes performing the first angioplasty in a heart attack patient:

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