1983 open heart surgery broadcast

Looking back: Historic broadcast of open heart surgery turns 35

This month, we’re marking the 35th anniversary of our historic broadcast of an open heart surgery on Feb. 23, 1983. The following is reprinted from the February 1983 issue of “UnderCover,” the original name of our members’ magazine.

Heart Surgery Live: A Phoenix First

One million people will die from heart disease this year, more than half of them from heart attacks. “Keep in Touch with Your Heart” is Channel 8’s month-long effort to inform the public about all aspects of this dreaded condition — prevention, diagnosis, intervention and rehabilitation. The culmination will be the co-production, along with the Arizona Heart Institute, of the first live telecast of open heart surgery. Dr. Edward B. Diethrich will perform the operation.

The operation itself will take place Wednesday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. and will be televised live from St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Channel 8’s anchor team for the operation will be Rick D’Alli, “Horizon” science editor, and cardiologist Dr. Sam Kinard. They will guide the audience through the process while Dr. Diethrich narrates from the operating room. Viewers will have the chance to call in questions while the surgery is in progress.

Following the surgery, cameras will follow the patient into the intensive care unit, and about three hours later, Channel 8 will interrupt its regular broadcasting to return live to St. Joseph’s to check on the progress of the patient from his room.

The operating room, complete with special surgical dome, will be equipped with three sterilized cameras, television lights and sound. One camera, suspended above the surgeon’s head, will allow viewers to follow the surgical procedure as the team sees it. Another hand-held camera will enable other surgical team members to explain their duties and to provide glimpses of such apparatus as the heart-lung machine.

“Procedures of this kind represent a chance for the millions who do not die of heart disease to not only continue living, but also to lead a productive life,” says Charles Allen, the production’s executive producer and Channel 8’s program manager.

Allen will head up a crew including producers Dick Williams and Tom Shannon, director Jeff Halberg, chief engineer Ernie Flotto, and Eric Velgos, shooting and editing.

“As the population ages, and until preventative medicine becomes an achieved goal, more and more people will face this operation over the next decade,” says Allen. “To televise it is to reduce the fear and worry of those who may have this ahead of them.”

Allen says he hopes the familiarity produced by the telecast will create an awareness of the kind of outstanding medical resources available in the Phoenix area. The Arizona Heart Institute was established in 1971 as a medical center for the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease. At the same time, the formation of the International Heart Foundation provided a means of sponsoring research and education in the field of cardiovascular medicine. The two organizations have worked closely together to attack their common enemy. The institute was the first freestanding outpatient diagnostic and treatment center for heart disease in the country. It also was responsible for developing the famous Cardiovascular Risk Factor Analysis.

“The entire ‘Keep in Touch with Your Heart’ project is meant to cause people to think,” Allen says. “It’s our lifestyle that’s killing us, and if this project can help us become aware of that and of its consequences, then the series will have served its purpose.”

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