Andreas Gruentzig: In His Own Words

Andreas R. Gruentzig, MD

Andreas R. Gruentzig, MD

On Tuesday morning the Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics (TCT) 2013 Conference celebrated the “father of angioplasty,” Dr. Andreas Roland Gruentzig, with the Career Achievement Award. Gruentzig, who died in 1985, was honored with a very moving tribute, which included a video, remembrances from his colleagues, and by the presence of his wife and two daughters, who were flown in from Zurich and Berlin by the TCT to receive the award on his behalf.

At Gruentzig’s first live demonstration courses in the late 1970’s, he had a few dozen cardiologists in attendance, maybe as much as a hundred. On Tuesday, many thousands of doctors filled the Main Ballroom of the Moscone Center in San Francisco to witness this ceremony.

Gruentzig and his daughter Sonja at bonfire at 1980 PTCA Course in Zurich

Zurich 1980

Gruentzig’s daughter Sonja made a brief speech, calling herself the “twin” of the angioplasty balloon. She recalled that she was born at the same time that her father was inventing the balloon, she was raised in her parents’ modest apartment in Zurich and ate at the same kitchen table on which the first balloon catheters were glued together. As a child, she ran through the corridors of University Hospital during the first live demonstration courses, as pioneering cardiologists gathered to learn a procedure that would literally change the face of medicine. Here, Sonja sits in her father’s lap during the bonfire celebration dinner at the 1980 course in Zurich, the last one held in Europe before Gruentzig moved to Emory University in Atlanta.

Atlanta is where I had the honor of meeting Andreas and watching him work in the lab, and lecture on the auditorium stage in front of cardiologists who flocked from around the world to his twice annual courses, where he would, in the words of his cath lab technologist Joe Brown, “teach them everything he knew!”

I also conducted two video interviews with Gruentzig, the last one in his office in 1985, only weeks before he died in a tragic plane crash. People who met Andreas always used the term “charisma”, describing almost a glow about him. I can attest to that. When I sat across the desk from him, cameras rolling, you could feel that you were in the presence of someone special.

For the Tuesday morning tribute, I was able to make available to the TCT footage from those interviews, along with historical video and films from the archives of  Angioplasty.Org’s History Center. The TCT’s video tribute was an impressive fast-moving montage of scenes and voices, evoking the many facets of his impact on medicine.

For those interested, I have posted below three segments from my 1985 interview, which give you a sense of what Gruentzig cared about and his vision. In these segments he predicts the development of stents, aspiration catheters, atherectomy devices; he cautions beginning cardiologists to start with simple cases and not to get carried away by the procedure. And he points the way to treating more complex cases, multivessel disease, but only if the data is shared in an open fashion with the medical community. He was a strong believer in “open source” and transparency.

Here are the “Grand Rounds with Andreas Gruentzig,” taken from my full-length documentary, “PTCA: A History.”



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