Cracking jokes and cracking chests

Originally published on March 18, 2016 on


It took Kathy Magliato, M.D., three tries to write the book that eventually became the basis for the new NBC series Heartbeat, which premieres March 23.

First, she tried writing a fact-driven book about heart disease and the risk it poses to women. But the book, she now concedes, was “dry” and the topic had been covered numerous times elsewhere.

So she tried to pepper it with interesting and enlightening anecdotes from her experience as one of only a handful of female heart surgeons practicing today. Better, but those who read the manuscript told her they wanted to learn more about her story, too.

And that’s when the book, eventually titled Heart Matters: A Memoir of a Female Heart Surgeon, became the full-fledged memoir that Magliato says she hopes will inspire young people, especially young girls, to pursue careers in medicine as well as STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – fields. Publishers Weekly called the memoir “amazing.”

NBCUNIVERSAL EVENTS -- NBCUniversal Press Tour, January 2016 -- NBC's "Heartbeat" Session -- Pictured: Dr. Kathy Magliato, Co-Executive Producer -- (Photo by: Chris Haston/NBCUniversal)

Now Magliato is preparing for the fourth incarnation of her book, as a primetime TV show starring Melissa George as Magliato’s alter ego, the talented but unorthodox heart transplant surgeon Alex Panttiere.

“The show is loosely based on and inspired by my own life,” said Magliato, who today is director of women’s cardiac services at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “The producers, I think, have captured my humor and quirkiness, but also my conviction to fight for my patients.”

Of course, TV rarely leaves well enough alone, so Magliato’s quirkiness has been exaggerated.

In the show, airing Wednesdays at 8 p.m. Eastern, Alex’s ex-husband Max, played by Joshua Leonard, has come out as gay and is the primary caregiver of their two children. She works at a hospital with ex-boyfriend Dr. Jessie Shane (Don Hany) as well as her current one Dr. Pierce Harrison (Dave Annable, whom Magliato calls “the new McDreamy”) who wants things to get more serious than she does.

If the personal stuff is heightened dramatically, the medicine portrayed on the show is entirely plausible, according to executive producer Amy Brenneman.

“We do cool, cutting-edge stuff,” she said. “In one episode Alex does something where the patient’s body [temperature] is dropped to the point where they stop breathing and there’s no heartbeat or brain activity.”

Called hypothermic circulatory arrest, the procedure temporarily stops blood circulation during aortic surgery, and patients can remain in this state for up to 40 minutes.

The show isn’t all seriousness. Magliato and Brenneman both separately used the term “dramedy” to define the tone.

In one scene, for example, Alex gushes, “I love the smell of lung burning first thing in the morning.”

“We didn’t want to do just a hard-charging medical drama,” explained Brenneman, who created and starred in Judging Amy. “We wanted to portray the humor, often the gallows humor that doctors need in order to get through the things they often see and do.”

So will the show do what Magliato wanted her book to do? Will it help inspire a generation of young people to pursue the hard sciences, including medicine?

“Absolutely,” Magliato said. “I often say women can’t be what they can’t see. Young girls need to know they can be anything they want to be.”

Pancreatic Cancer Action Network: Purple Stride Los Angeles 2016

Guest post by Larry Clark, retired Rancho Palos Verdes Mayor and National Volunteer Ambassador for The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network

March 12, 2013, was a date that changed my life forever, it was the day I was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. From that day almost 3 years ago, I believed I would win my War with pancreatic cancer and dedicated my life to not just surviving this the deadliest of cancers with a dismal survival rate of 8% at 5 years, but joining the larger fight to change this picture for those affiliated today and in the future with pancreatic cancer.

I was incredibly fortunate to be able to have lifesaving successful resection surgery 10 days after diagnosis, performed by Dr. Nick Nissen, M.D., an amazing surgeon and incredible human being, who has become a close personal friend and continues to lead my amazing medical “Dream Team” at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. I was again very fortunate 2 months later qualify for a breakthrough immunological (pancreatic cancer vaccine) phase III clinical trial where for 1 year I received an experimental pancreatic cancer vaccine that kept my cancer from coming back.

Unfortunately, my pancreatic cancer returned in my liver during the Summer of 2014, and I became a Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer Patient.

Since then, my cancer has returned 5 times and I have endured 5 additional medical procedures including 3 ablation surgeries and 2 radiation treatment procedures (both internal & external), all accomplished by my medical “Dream Team” at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, headed by Dr. Nicholas Nissen.

I was honored to the receipant of the “Spirit of Hope” Award by The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in Nov. 2013, and named a voluteer National Ambassador for PANCAN in early 2014.

Over the past 2 years I’ve be dedicated to raising awareness, helping other pancreatic cancer patients, and raising critically needed research funding for pancreatic cancer.

Please join me in this fight to WAGE HOPE for all those afflicted now and in the future with pancreatic cancer by making a donation in any amount to my page.

My Sincere Thanks,

Larry Clark

Mayor(ret.) Larry Clark
Rancho Palos Verdes
National Volunteer Ambassador
Ambassadors Circle
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network
3 Year Pancreatic Cancer Survivor


Heartbeat First Look: Blood, Sex and Open Heart Surgeries on Planes

NBC’s upcoming hospital drama Heartbeat will turn the real life of cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Kathy Magliato into a heart-racing hospital drama.

Melissa George plays Magliato’s television alter ego Dr. Alex Panttiere, a maverick surgeon who isn’t afraid of pursuingbig risks for big rewards. Her rock-star style in the operating room has to be balanced with her equally fast-paced love life. (Imagine cracking a chest open in the morning to come home to your ex-husband and two kids, an ex-boyfriend turned co-worker and your new boyfriend. It sounds like a roller coaster just talking about it!)