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August 28, 2008

Obituary: Brack G. Hattler

Surgery professor Brack G. Hattler died July 31, 2008, while vacationing in New Jersey. He was 73.

Hattler was the Kathleen DuRoss Ford chair in cardiothoracic transplantation and executive director of Pitt’s medical devices laboratory. He joined the faculty in 1989 as a surgeon in the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery.

In addition to heart surgery and heart and lung transplantation, Hattler had research interests focused on improving artificial lung devices, including the Hattler Respiratory Support Catheter, which can be inserted into a patient’s vena cava to add oxygen and remove carbon dioxide from the bloodstream.

Hattler earned a bachelor’s degree in French and a doctorate in microbiology and immunology at Duke University. He received his MD from Cornell University Medical School.

Prior to coming to Pitt, Hattler was a lieutenant colonel and chief of Army Organ Transplant Service at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He also was an associate professor of surgery at the University of Arizona and established a private practice for cardiothoracic and vascular surgery at Porter Memorial Hospital in Denver, Colo.

An adventurer, Hattler climbed Mount Everest and last summer embarked on a cross-country bike ride to raise money for the American Lung Association. His ride was cut short by a bicycle accident near the halfway point on the Seattle to Washington, D.C., route, which left him with a concussion and a broken pelvis. His blog chronicling the ride remains posted in the news archive on the McGowan Institute’s web site.

Alan Russell, director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, characterized Hattler as incredibly intelligent, driven and willing to take risks, while at the same time being a charming and humorous gentleman — traits that served him well as a thoracic surgeon and as a transplant surgeon, Russell said.

“He was the whole package,” Russell said.

Not only an adventurer in his private life, he was adventuresome in his professional life as well. “He climbed Everest in real life and climbed Everest in technical developments too,” Russell said.

“He had incredibly farsighted ideas many years ago and never gave up,” Russell said, citing how the Hattler catheter went from a sketch on a piece of paper to reality due to Hattler’s drive.

Russell counted himself among those whom Hattler mentored, adding that Hattler’s spirit will live on not only through his children but also through the many academic “children” he taught and mentored.

In a tribute posted on the McGowan Institute web site, colleagues wrote, “He will be remembered as a superb surgeon, a pioneering scientist, an advocate of advancing the state-of-the-art in patient care, a friend and colleague. … Many researchers, physicians and patients are grateful for the benefits that they have already derived from Dr. Hattler’s scientific and clinical skills, and many more will benefit as his technologies continue to mature.”

In a prepared statement to departmental colleagues, Timothy Billiar, chair of the Department of Surgery, recognized the professor as “an outstanding and compassionate cardiothoracic surgeon, amazing innovator and inventor, and dedicated educator. Above all, he was the consummate gentleman scholar and trusted friend to many in our community.”

Hattler is survived by his wife, Jean Anne Hattler; sons Brack G. Hattler Jr., Mark B. Hattler and Richard A. Hattler; daughter Michelle M. Sherry; siblings Patricia Schultze and Richard M. Hattler, and nine grandchildren.

The family suggests memorial contributions to Family House, 5301 Fifth Ave., Pittsburgh 15232 or the Crossroads Foundation, 2915 Webster Ave., Pittsburgh 15219.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 41 Issue 1

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