Dr. Geoffrey Oliver Hartzler passed away in his home at the Lake of the Ozarks on March 10, 2012. Family, friends, and medical and business colleagues will remember Dr. Hartzler as a generous and caring man who was as humble as he was brilliant.
In his lifetime, Dr. Hartzler was revered as a pioneer in the field of interventional cardiology. In 1981, he became the first physician to use percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA) to treat heart attack. Despite intense criticism and skepticism, Dr. Hartzler was able refine and defend the procedure, finally establishing direct angioplasty as the preferred standard of care worldwide, saving millions of lives. He performed the first PTCA to treat multiple vessel disease. He created the first implantable defibrillator to reach the market and be used effectively. He was also instrumental in developing the first steerable guidewire catheters and went on to help design a family of “Hartzler” balloon catheters used in angioplasty. Dr. Hartzler possessed enormous energy, intense concentration, and unparalleled technical skills. His contributions to the advancement of angioplasty and cardiology are recognized annually through the “Geoffrey O. Hartzler Master Clinical Operator Award” given by the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions.
Dr. Hartzler’s achievements and accolades could fill volumes, but he, more than any, would have hated the idea. He revolutionized cardiac medicine in the face of initial scrutiny and criticism, and yet, he was a humble man. He was kind and always curious and interested in those around him. Family, friends, and even acquaintances felt that he was a blessing, the one person they could truly count on for help if needed. He relished a quiet life with his wife and the affection of his daughters and close friends. For many years, he and Dorothy often retreated to their house at the Lake of the Ozarks. His brother Greg remembers that even while blowing up stumps with homemade explosives and getting into other sorts of mischief as young man, Geoffrey was always helping people. As a young cardiologist (and an old one!) Geoffrey enjoyed fast cars and motorcycles, wearing cowboy boots to work, and mastering new technology. He loved music and was a talented bass guitar player. In fact, his brother Greg has said that he always thinks of Geoffrey as a musician first. As a young man, Geoffrey was a member of several popular jazz and rock n’ roll bands that performed in the area around his northern Indiana hometown of Goshen. In recent years, his Kansas City band, “Heart Rock,” performed and cut several CDs. Geoff had fun mixing their recordings, as well as jamming with other musician friends.
Geoffrey’s Mennonite upbringing deeply informed his perspective on life. A quotation he particularly liked is by Benjamin Whicote: “Our fallibility and the shortness of our knowledge should make us peaceable and gentle.” Geoffrey was certainly both and he will be sorely missed by his wife of 27 years, his brother, his four daughters, two grandsons, and all who knew him.