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.”

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!)


How NBC’s ‘Heartbeat’ Sprang To Life

“I wasn’t looking to produce,” Amy Brenneman said about Heartbeat, the upcoming NBC medical drama she’s executive producing

“But I know what makes a good role,” said the actress who couldn’t even consider the lead in Heartbeat as a female cardiothoracic surgeon given her obligations to HBO’s The Leftovers. Heartbeat sprang from Dr. Kathy Magliato’s book Heart Matters: A Memoir Of A Female Heart Surgeon. Upon
coming away from a meeting with Magliato, Brenneman said to her filmmaker husband Brad Silberling, who also serves as EP, “That woman is a TV show.”

Read the full article on Deadline.

How NBC’s New Medical Show Was Born at a Ron Meyer Dinner Party

NBC’s forthcoming medical series Heartbeat began as fodder at a Ron Meyer dinner party.

When the NBCUniversal vice chairman’s wife, Kelly, heard the tales of Dr. Kathy Magliato, one of few female cardiothoracic surgeons, her response was immediate: “Oh my God, you’re a show.” Not long after, Amy Brenneman and Brad Silberling were introduced to Magliato and the Leftovers actress said she, too, had that response: “I remember driving away thinking that woman’s a TV show.”

Read the full article at The Hollywood Reporter.

Queen Latifah Opens Up About Helping Her Mom Live With Heart Failure

“We’re not going to talk about dying from heart failure, we’re going to talk about living with heart failure because that’s what Rita’s doing,” says Los Angeles cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Kathy Magliato…


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Queen Latifah and Her Mother Rita Owens Are Fighting Heart Failure—Together

Queen’s mother, Rita Owens, began experiencing symptoms of heart failure 10 years ago. The mother-daughter duo now work with theAmerican Heart Association and its “Rise Above Heart Failure” initiative, designed to cultivate awareness and decrease hospitalizations due to heart failure. Queen spoke with Parade about their journey, as did Kathy Magliato, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon and director of women’s cardiac services at St John’s Medical Center in Santa Monica…

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