Edward ‘Ted’ Diethrich, Founder of the Arizona Heart Institute, Dies at 81

After years of pioneering work in cardiothoracic and endovascular surgery, Diethrich put the spotlight on radiation safety, later succumbing to brain cancer.

Edward B. Diethrich, MD, a pioneering cardiovascular surgeon, inventor, and mentor, died last week from complications of a brain tumor. He was 81 years old.

In 1971, Dietrich founded the Arizona Heart Institute (Phoenix, AZ), which over the years has provided world-class care to hundreds of thousands of patients, noted Gregg Stone, MD (Columbia University Medical Center, New York). He called Diethrich “an original—a unique individual who played an important role in introducing and advancing endovascular therapies within the subspecialty of vascular surgery.”

Additionally, Stone told TCTMD that Diethrich was “ahead of the curve in bringing novel AV technologies and live case transmissions to medical education. His voice will be missed."

Diethrich also founded the nonprofit Arizona Heart Foundation and invented several medical devices, including the sternal saw still used routinely in open chest surgery. He is credited with establishing the nation’s first outpatient cath lab, and initiating the first heart and heart/lung transplantation program in Phoenix. According to his website, he wrote more than 400 scientific papers, several textbooks, and myriad lay publications, in addition to producing hundreds of educational videos and films, and was the first to televise an open-heart procedure nationally in 1983. Over the years, he trained more than a thousand surgeons and other specialists in cardiovascular surgery and endovascular techniques, and traveled internationally to educate physicians. He was the founder and chairman of the board of the International Society of Endovascular Specialists and the founding editor-in-chief of the Journal of Endovascular Therapy.

Grayson H. Wheatley III, MD (TriStar Centennial Medical Center, Nashville, TN), who spent almost a decade practicing with Diethrich and collaborating on numerous research projects and training programs, took to Twitter to share his thoughts about the man who was his mentor. “I did so many cases with him that his presence continues with me in the operating room,” Wheatley wrote. Elaborating to TCTMD, Wheatley said that Diethrich’s foresight and vision, combined with his magnetic personality and outstanding clinical skills, helped revolutionize the entire field.

“However, the area that always charged him up the most was training,” Wheatley said in an email. “His vision of reengineering training programs to best educate the cardiovascular specialist of the future was one of his most passionate missions, and I believe [it] will also be his most impactful legacy.”

From the early days of his own training with legendary surgeon Michael DeBakey, MD, in Texas, Diethrich had a reputation as something of a maverick. A 1972 Life magazine article on the young surgeon referred to him by his nickname, ‘Ted Terrific’—something his technicians had emblazoned, with his photograph, on their white coats—and documented his exuberance for emerging endovascular technologies, which often put him at odds with older, more conservative colleagues.

In the years prior to his death, Diethrich was diagnosed with an oligodendroglioma brain tumor. In 2015 he collaborated on a documentary with the Organization for Occupational Radiation Safety in Interventional Fluoroscopy (ORSIF) to bring attention to the impact of chronic, low-level exposure to ionizing radiation in the work environment. Diethrich said in the documentary that he was “a living example of excessive radiation and what it can do to tissue.”

Diethrich is survived by Gloria, his wife of 61 years, their two children, and eight grandchildren. A celebration of life “will be planned in the near future,” according to his website, which promises to post the details.

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