A newsmaker you should know: Cardiologist at Allegheny General still shows how it's done

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At 92, Donald Fisher may be the oldest and longest practicing cardiologist in the United States.

"I think I am at least the oldest doctor at AGH," he joked about his employment at Allegheny General Hospital.

For his lifetime of contributions to the medical field, most specifically in cardiology, Dr. Fisher on Saturday received the American Heart Association's 2011 Peter J. Safar Pulse of Pittsburgh Award.

Dr. Fisher is a pioneer in the field of diagnostic cardiology. During his lifetime, he has trained hundreds of doctors and is still doing so today.

"I have two or three research projects that I am working on and I still read diagnostic studies," he said. "I also help the younger doctors and give them helpful suggestions in some of the treatment plans."

Dr. Fisher, who lives in Ross, grew up in Utah and graduated from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

"I graduated in 1943 and wanted to join the Army before the war was over, so I served for 2 1/2 years," he said. "I learned a lot in the Army."

After he returned to the United States, Dr. Fisher was a resident at Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago, where he assisted in establishing the first heart catheterization laboratory in the city. Chicago was where he met his wife, Geraldine, who was a nurse.

"Then, I worked at Cook County Children's Hospital in Chicago and helped set up a lab there," he said.

"I was recruited to AGH in 1952 and helped set up the first cath lab here in Pittsburgh," he said.

He became the director of the catheterization laboratory and was named chief of the department of cardiovascular diseases in 1960, a post he held until 1984.

Dr. Fisher is considered a pioneer in the field of cardiology, but he downplays his role. "Well, I don't have any major discoveries to my name, although I did help set up the first labs in Chicago and here," he said. "But I think I was mainly a supporting role in the development in surgery and treatment of heart disease techniques."

In 1952, Dr. Fisher was featured in a Time magazine story about how he used a heart defibrillator that he had made himself to save the life of a young woman who was undergoing heart surgery at the time. "That was back in December of 1951 when I was still in Chicago. It was one of the first defibrillations," he explained.

The Peter J. Safar Pulse of Pittsburgh Award was created to recognize and honor an individual's leadership in the fight against heart disease and stroke, according to Jack Senay, a volunteer with the American Heart Association and member of the selection committee for the award. The award recipient is selected by hospital administrators, doctors, volunteers and past Pulse recipients, according to Mr. Senay of Ohio Township.

"Over his career, Dr. Fisher has supervised the fellows program at AGH. Everyone we talked to said that even though he keeps a low profile, that he has always been there to help them through medical challenges," he said.

Mr. Senay continued, "He never wanted any of the glory -- he has just always helped everyone else perform to their own highest level."

He cited Dr. Fisher's contribution in creating the first cardiac catheterization laboratory in Western Pennsylvania and other research and guidance. "He is very deserving of this honor," he said.

Dr. Fisher has seen tremendous advance in medicine over the 60 years he has been practicing, but he believes more needs to be made. "I want to help find ways to prevent heart attacks before they happen," he said. "We need to find out about the danger of heart attacks earlier."

He doesn't see himself retiring any time soon. "I have really good genes. One of my sisters lived to be 102, another 98 and my parents both lived to 98," he said. "Which is good, because I still have a lot of ideas. I hope to participate in helpful research and make still make contributions."

Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com . First Published March 3, 2011 11:00 AM


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