Patrick Whitlow, ‘Giant of Interventional Cardiology,’ Dies at 65

Patrick Whitlow, MD, the long-time director of interventional cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic, died early this morning following complications from diabetes. He was 65.

As “a giant of interventional cardiology,” Whitlow “literally founded interventional cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic, decades ago,” his colleague of many years, Steven Nissen, MD (Cleveland Clinic, OH), told TCTMD. “He trained an entire generation of interventional cardiologists, and he cared for I can’t tell you how many tens of thousands of patients—it’s incalculable.”

Ted Feldman, MD (NorthShore University HealthSystem, Evanston, IL), told TCTMD that Whitlow “was one of the really most gifted interventional physicians in the US. He is someone I would have gone to without hesitation if I needed interventional therapy.” Whitlow will be remembered as a “virtuoso in the lab who also was a critical thinker and really contributed a great deal to the development of interventional cardiology,” he added.

Samir Kapadia, MD (Cleveland Clinic), who trained under Whitlow in the 1990s, lauded his mentor for his breadth of knowledge across multiple specialties within interventional cardiology, from directional atherectomy to rotational atherectomy and pioneering the first chronic total occlusion devices. “He has been instrumental in all of them,” Kapadia said to TCTMD, noting that Whitlow performed the very first MitraClip (Abbott Vascular) procedure in the early 2000s.

The legacy he leaves behind will be to “have faith in what you do and do it well,” Kapadia commented. Practicing in an era when there was less confidence in interventional procedures compared with surgery, Whitlow “believed in it, he wanted to improve them, and he practiced with passion,” Kapadia explained. “Anyone who knew him would think that if you wanted to do anything difficult, anything that sounds impossible, that would be something he would have done with confidence and success.”

Another of Whitlow’s former trainees, Deepak L. Bhatt, MD (Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA), said that he often thinks of Whitlow when completing complex cases late at night. “There are a lot of times when I’m in the cath lab, when I’m in a tough situation when I think about him and I literally ask myself, ‘What would Dr. Whitlow do?’” Bhatt noted to TCTMD. “The impact that he’s had on a generation or more of interventional cardiologists is enormous. He was really the consummate teacher. I don’t know that I’ve encountered anyone with as much skill and patience in working with fellows.”

Additionally, Bhatt praised Whitlow’s dedication to his patients, adding that his talent was precise and his attitude persistent. “I remember doing some incredibly complex CTOs with him, for example, back when the equipment for doing CTOs wasn’t so great. But just through pure skill and stamina, he would forge through. I remember doing CTOs with him that were known to be over a decade old, just really tough lesions when doing CTOs wasn’t as in vogue and fashionable and feasible as it is now.”

E. Murat Tuzcu, MD (Cleveland Clinic), told TCTMD that there are not “too many people in this world, in any profession, who work as hard as Pat did all his life. Some days fellows in the cath lab had to work shifts to keep up with him. Nothing stopped him from doing his absolute best for patients, no matter how long it took.” Whitlow also “cared about his patients deeply, almost in a religious way,” Tuzcu added, “and they reciprocated by an unwavering love and loyalty. He was a brilliant and innovative man who was very generous in sharing his vast knowledge and insights.”

Gregg W. Stone, MD (Columbia University Medical Center), remembered Whitlow today as “a tremendous physician, an early pioneer of angioplasty strategies, and a great operator. More importantly, he was a warm, compassionate and caring person who always placed his patients first. The greatest testimony I can provide is that when my father developed coronary artery disease, I sent him to Pat Whitlow who stented a sub-total LAD lesion, which was successful for the rest of his life. Pat always called me to ask about my father. I will miss him greatly.’”

Likewise, Martin B. Leon, MD (Columbia University Medical Center), said Whitlow “was among the early legendary group of creative physicians who was instrumental in crafting the subspecialty of interventional cardiology. His humility, genuine kindness, patient-first attitude, and mentoring spirit were among his most admirable qualities. He will be sorely missed.”

Even in the face of a significant chronic illness, Whitlow “was incredibly courageous,” said Nissen. “No matter what the obstacles, he made every effort to come to work every day to take care of his patients. He was passionate about his patients, passionate about education, and tremendously loyal to the Cleveland Clinic. He will be greatly missed by all of us.”

A lifelong innovator, Whitlow continued to invent and collaborate on new devices, “right up until the point he was too ill to work,” Nissen said. Some of his innovations are in the pipeline now, he added.

“Pat was one of the most talented, humble, and dedicated physicians with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work,” observed Stephen G. Ellis, MD (Cleveland Clinic). “What he accomplished despite his long illness is awe-inspiring.”

Whitlow completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia and his MD at Duke University. Prior to joining the Cleveland Clinic in 1989, Whitlow was the director of the cardiac catheterization laboratory at University of Alabama at Birmingham.

* Shelley Wood contributed reporting to this story.

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