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'Old-school' doctor tackled genetic disorders

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Dr. Kenneth L. Garver, who lived in Oakland and who for many years lived in Penn Hills, died at home on Thursday, March 21, 2013.

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Saturday, March 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Years after he closed his pediatric practice, Dr. Kenneth Garver's former patients still greeted him when he was out in public.

“People really remembered him. He was a brilliant man with a big heart. ... He made house calls long after everyone else stopped. He never charged the poor,” Karen Santorum said of her father.

Dr. Kenneth L. Garver, who lived in Oakland and who for many years lived in Penn Hills, died at home on Thursday, March 21, 2013. He was 90.

Dr. Garver was the father-in-law of former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

Dr. Garver was a 1940 graduate of Central Catholic High School in Oakland. He earned a full scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh, where he graduated summa cum laude. He also graduated from Pitt's medical school.

Dr. Garver served in the Army for 10 years, three on active duty as a captain.

For 17 years, Dr. Garver practiced pediatrics in Penn Hills, where his interest in genetic diseases and defects took root, his daughter said.

At 43, Dr. Garver closed his practice and earned a doctorate from Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health.

He founded the medical genetics department in Magee-Womens Hospital, which later merged with UPMC. Dr. Garver created the genetics program at West Penn Hospital, said Dr. Alan Lantzy, vice chairman of pediatrics there, who worked under him for a time.

Dr. Garver retired in 1993.

“He was one of those classic, old-school pediatricians. If he got a call on a cold snowy night, he'd go out to someone's house,” said Dennis Kusturiss, a Pittsburgh lawyer and a son-in-law.

Dr. Garver was married to Betty Lee Garver for 67 years.

Dr. Garver had deep affection for the Santorums' daughter Bella, who is 4 and suffers from Trisomy 18, a rare genetic disorder. “He loved her like crazy,” Karen Santorum said.

In addition to his wife and his daughter Karen Santorum, Dr. Garver is survived by children Kenneth Garver Jr. of New Wilmington, MaryBeth Kusturiss of Bethel Park, James Garver of Point Breeze, Kathleen Lamb of Wexford, Maureen Schwartz of Charlotte, Bob Garver of Moon, Bill Garver of Penn Hills, Susan Rickerl of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, Michael Garver of Johnstown and Paul Garver of Scott. A son, John Garver, preceded him in death. He had 32 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Friends will be received from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday in John A. Freyvogel Sons Inc., 4900 Centre Ave. at Devonshire Street. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at St. Paul Cathedral. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Good Samaritan Hospice or St. Paul Cathedral.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at

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