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Eight produces live 1983 telecast of open heart surgery

January 24, 2011

In 1983, Eight and the Arizona Heart Institute (AHI) co-produced the first live telecast of open heart surgery. View the video here.

Dr. Edward Diethrich, medical director of AHI, a diagnostic and treatment center for heart disease, performed the surgery from St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Facility. The patient was Bernard Schuler, 62, a retired insurance salesman, who spent his winters in Arizona. The anchor team for "The Operation" was Rick D'Alli, science editor for "HORIZON," and cardiologist Dr. Sam Kinard.

The program was carried live by 97 PBS stations in 33 states. The BBC showed a tape delayed version and "ABC World News Tonight" aired an abbreviated version of the broadcast. The program was beamed from a microwave dish atop the hospital aimed at towers on South Mountain, to the studio in Tempe, over telephone lines to Los Angeles and up to a satellite.

Before entering the operating room, all cameras and equipment had to be scrubbed with alcohol. Three video camera operators (one on an elevated dolly over the table) and several still photographers joined Diethrich, his 12-member surgical crew and Schuler in the second-floor operating room.

Overhead in a small room with an eight-sided glass dome, another Eight video cameraman and more than a dozen reporters, photographers and observers looked on as Diethrich began the procedure by making a 14-inch incision from the upper end of Schuler's sternum with a specially designed electric saw.

The Phoenix Gazette, Los Angeles Times, People magazine, USA Today, The Associated Press and United Press International all had representatives at S. Joseph's to cover the event.

During the surgery, Diethrich answered questions from viewers calling in from Phoenix as well as New Jersey, Georgia, Massachusetts and Indiana.

From the station's Tempe studio, D'Alli and Kinard helped guide the audience through the procedure, occasionally interrupted by Diethrich providing narrative from the operating room. The special was the culmination of Eight's month-long project to inform the public about all aspects of heart disease from prevention through diagnosis, intervention and rehabilitation.

Other surgery broadcasts followed: "The Implant: Hip Replacement Surgery‚Ä®;" "Implant II: Knee Replacement Surgery‚Ä®;" and "The Implant III: Hip Revision Surgery."