Dr. Don L. Fisher, pioneering cardiologist at Allegheny General Hospital, dead at 100
Jeff Fisher’s memories of his father, Dr. Don L. Fisher, are intertwined with the place where his father spent most days for 66 years — Allegheny General Hospital.
“He was at work quite a bit,” Jeff Fisher, 65, of Peachtree City, Ga., said of his father. “Actually, he included us sometimes in his work.”
Don Fisher was a pioneering cardiologist who started Allegheny General Hospital’s cardiac catheterization laboratory in 1952. Catheterizations are a key diagnostic tool to determine heart health. A catheter is inserted into a blood vessel leading to the heart to allow doctors to determine the extent of damage to the heart and to find out if there are blockages.
Fisher died March 13, 2019, in Peachtree City, Ga., of congestive heart failure. He was 100.
Jeff Fisher said his dad would get home from work late at night and sometimes was called back in the middle of the night for a pressing case and family members would accompany him as improvised assistants, Jeff Fisher said.
“He’d be with the patient, inject a contrast solution,” Jeff Fisher remembered.
Jeff’s brother would help move the patient in place and Jeff would run the X-ray machine.
“I’d go develop the X-ray film and hang it on the wall,” said Jeff Fisher, who was in high school at the time. “Things were a little bit different back in the 1970s.”
“It shows you how far things have come,” Dr. David Lasorda, the current director of interventional cardiology and the cardiac cath lab at Allegheny General Hospital, said Monday after hearing the anecdote.
“He was a giant,” Lasorda said. “He’s a mentor of mine.”
Fisher was a pioneering cardiologist who entered the field at the right place, at the right time, just after World War II ended, his son said.
Fisher served as a combat surgeon in the Pacific during the war, after he’d completed studies at the University of Utah, his home state, and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo.
When he returned, he worked in Chicago when cardiology was first becoming a specialty. In the Feb. 11, 1952, issue of Time magazine, Fisher was featured for using a heart defibrillator he built to save a patient’s life — one of the first times it had been done.
He was recruited by Allegheny General Hospital to set up its cardiac catheterization lab and he lived in Ross Township from 1957 until last year, when he moved to a retirement community in Peachtree City nearby to Jeff.
“I’m sure he’s disappointed somewhere that he couldn’t have lived another 10 years and kept busy,” Jeff Fisher, 65, said of his dad. “He’s had a celebrated career. It was his passion.”
His father never lost interest in the field, even after failing eyesight limited his practice to research, Jeff Fisher said.
He spent 66 years at Allegheny General, which was like a second home, Jeff Fisher said.
“He was certainly a pioneer,” Lasorda said. “A lot of the firsts, he set (them) up.”
Fisher was a mentor to countless doctors during his career and his work ethic was an inspiration.
“We felt he was very true and honest to the profession. I would strive to be like (him)” Lasorda said. “I remember one time he was going on vacation and he knew I had some interesting cases coming up and he said, ‘You can call me, and if you want me to be here I can drive back.’”
He came to the hospital most days before he moved to Georgia.
“He would come to me with research ideas that he wanted to work on,” Lasorda said. “He would say, ‘Dave, I’ve got this idea.’”
“My dad only quit because he physically couldn’t do it anymore,” Jeff Fisher said. “We could see the fruit of his labors, of being so dedicated. (That’s) what we’ll remember about him.”
A memorial service hasn’t been set, but will be held in Bountiful, Utah, Jeff Fisher said.
Fisher’s wife preceded him in death. In addition to his four children, he is survived by eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, [email protected] or via Twitter .