Obituary: Albert G. Marrangoni / Pioneer in heart surgery

Feb. 22, 1924 - Sept. 25, 2008

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A local pioneer in heart surgery and notable teacher of Pittsburgh surgeons, Dr. Albert G. Marrangoni was well-liked and highly regarded.

But he also could cause the occasional stir.

The doctor, whom his son called "the Big Boof," was known citywide for his involvement and interest in University of Pittsburgh football and as a local character who enjoyed talking with the parking attendant as much as with any city dignitary.

While playing golf he never made more than a bogey, or so said his scorecard. When he hit a ball into a sand trap, it magically would end up in the grass. But in surgery, unlike golf, Dr. Marrangoni was heralded as one of Pittsburgh's best.

Dr. Marrangoni, 84, of Windsor, Conn., died Sept. 25 of cancer.

He was born in New Castle to Italian immigrants and played guard on the University of Pittsburgh football team from 1942 to 1944. Recruited by the San Francisco 49ers to play football, he followed the advice of professors and returned to Pittsburgh to attend medical school.

Dr. Marrangoni decided to attend Pitt's School of Medicine because his parents had never heard of the other medical school where he'd been accepted: Harvard University.

After receiving his medical degree, he did a residency program at Mercy Hospital, now UPMC Mercy, then a fellowship and residency at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Va., along with other fellowship programs.

Returning to practice at Mercy Hospital, Dr. Marrangoni became one of a team of surgeons who performed the hospital's first aortic valve replacement on Oct. 31, 1962. He also was known for medical research.

Later in his career, Dr. Marrangoni served as director of clinical research at Mercy until his retirement in 2002. Dr. Charles Copeland, Mercy's former chief of general surgery and chairman of the surgery department, now semiretired, said Dr. Marrangoni taught many of the city's best surgeons. "He was a kind and considerate gentleman at all times," he said.

Besides his accomplishments as a surgeon, Dr. Marrangoni also enjoyed life in general, sometimes to excess.

Once, dressed as Santa Claus with another doctor as Santa's helper, the two made rounds to friends' houses before heading in their outfits to buy jewelry for their wives' Christmas presents.

When security questioned Dr. Marrangoni about the fact he was storing the jewelry he intended to buy in Santa's big pocket, he realized he didn't have his wallet. When security asked his doctor friend to identify himself, the doctor responded, "I'm Santa's little helper."

The two ended up in jail until matters could be set straight.

His son, David Marrangoni of Sewickley, said his father also became a legend at one jazz club in New Orleans' French Quarter, where he joined children who were dancing in the street for nickels. The dancing doctor persuaded friends and other onlookers to toss $20 bills to the children, who went home with fistfuls of cash.

Bill Dixon, a semiretired Pittsburgh attorney and close friend, said Dr. Marrangoni was charitable, unassuming and quiet -- a man of few words. Dr. Marrangoni would leave a one-word message on Mr. Dixon's phone: "Al."

His wife, Mary Catherine Mancini Marrangoni, died Aug. 29, 2005. In addition to his son, he also is survived by his second wife, Karen Pedro Marrangoni of Windsor, Conn.

A Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. tomorrow in Holy Name Church, Christ the Light of the World Parish, South First Street, Duquesne. Donations may be made to the V Foundation for Cancer Research, 106 Towerview Court, Cary, NC 27513.

David Templeton can be reached at or 412-263-1578.


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