Barry D. Rutherford, MD, an early mentor of Dr. Hartzler, shared with Cardiology Today Intervention how his fellow came to profoundly influence his own career and the field of interventional cardiology.
This past March, interventional cardiology lost one of its true
trailblazers when Geoffrey Hartzler, MD, died at the age of 65 years
after a bout with cancer.
As friends and loved ones mourn the passing of one who was known for
being a devoted family man and a thoughtful and humble human being, members of
the interventional cardiology community will in their own way have to process
the loss of one of the true champions of the field during its early years. Dr.
Hartzler’s influences on intervention can be traced back to 1979 when he
performed the first angioplasty at the Mayo Clinic. One year later, and just 3
years after the first human was treated with balloon angioplasty by Andreas
Gruentzig, MD, Dr. Hartzler pioneered the field of infarct angioplasty and
later wrote a protocol and began applying it to more patients. He also was the
first to treat multiple lesions at a single setting, which, while controversial
at the time, forever changed the practice of interventional cardiology.
Image: Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute; reprinted with permission.
“He was an absolute genius in seeing what was needed,” said
Barry D. Rutherford, MD, an early mentor of Dr. Hartzler at the Mayo
Clinic, Rochester, Minn., and later a colleague of his at the Saint Luke’s
Mid America Heart Institute, Kansas City. “He created the first steerable
wires and was able to expand angioplasty procedures to patients with multiple
vessel disease, ostial lesions, bifurcations, saphenous vein grafts, left main
disease, chronic total occlusions, thrombus aspiration and even a retrograde
The Formative Years
Early on, before Dr. Hartzler helped shape the landscape of
interventional cardiology, Rutherford remembers him as a striking man who was
aggressive and energetic.
“Geoff wanted to learn as much as he could as fast as he
could,” he said. “He was controversial because of that, and his
personality was fairly aggressive. You either responded to that or you
didn’t; I found him to be an exceptional young man at that time.”
Although their working relationship began as mentor and pupil, the
influence of Dr. Hartzler on Rutherford’s career in the oncoming years was
equally as indelible.
“Geoff taught me two important things: First, he was never at a
loss for a new idea and showed me how important it was to be innovative in your
thought process and be willing to try new things for your patients,”
Rutherford said. “Second, he taught me the importance of sheer
concentration. He was able to concentrate on a case for an hour or 2 hours and
Dr. Hartzler’s dedication was felt not only by his colleagues and
the thousands of students he taught over the years, but also by his patients
and their families as well.
“I never saw him finish a case and not also go out and personally
interact with the family,” Rutherford said. “It was a touching thing
to see: Geoff would come out after a very difficult case, sit down with the
family and take the spouse’s hand and discuss the results. It was such a
striking part of his personality.”
The Personal Side
Along with being a physician and forward-thinker, there was another,
deeper side to Dr. Hartzler.
“He was a very thoughtful human being,” Rutherford said.
“He was a Mennonite, so there was no pomp and circumstance with him. His
family was very important to him and he stayed in close contact with his
children on a daily basis. He was an active, excellent musician and played the
bass guitar. And, to me, he was a very close and wonderful friend over many
“In fact, looking back, it’s hard to describe the full extent
to how he influenced me,” Rutherford continued. “It was Geoff who
really set my career in motion and I know I owe my career in interventional
cardiology to him. All of my accomplishments since becoming an interventional
cardiologist, particularly in the field of acute infarct angioplasty, I
attribute to him.” – by Brian Ellis
Kahn JK. Clin Cardiol. 2004;27:58-59.