Dr. Robert Wylie Jr., heart surgery pioneer


Dr. Robert H. Wylie Jr., an internationally known cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon whose pioneering heart-valve operations in the early 1950s led to the development of bypass surgery, died Thursday of Alzheimer's disease at Keswick Home. He was 88.

Dr. Wylie had lived at Blakehurst Life Care Community in Towson since 1993. He had formerly resided in Sharon, Conn., and Riverdale, N.Y.

"He did the first open-heart operation in New York City in the early 1950s," said Dr. Philip Wiedel of New York, a colleague who described him "as an inspiring teacher and super surgeon."

Dr. Wylie "employed the technique of hypothermia where the patient was packed in ice, thus bringing down the pulse rate to one beat a minute, which allowed him to work on the heart between beats," said a son, Dr. John Wylie of Olney.

For 18 years until his retirement in 1972, Dr. Wylie was director of the chest surgery service at Presbyterian Hospital and a part-time professor of surgery at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, both in New York City.

In 1990, he received the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons Distinguished Service Award.

In 1958, he was summoned to Harlem Hospital as a consultant after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was stabbed in the chest with a steel letter opener while signing books in a store. Dr. King's assailant was a deranged woman.

A third-generation physician, Dr. Wylie was born and reared in New York and graduated from Yale University in 1927 and the

College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia in 1931.

During World War II, he was a combat surgeon with the 7th Army and saw action in Africa, Italy and France. He was discharged in 1946 with the rank of major, and his decorations included the Bronze Star with six battle stars.

His wife of 58 years, the former Jane Voorhees, died in 1994.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. April 2 at Riverdale Presbyterian Church in Riverdale, N.Y.

He is survived by two other sons, Walker Gill Wylie of Roland Park and Robert H. Wylie III of San Diego; two daughters, Jane Genth of Riverdale and Alexandra Considine of Salisbury, Vt.; and eight grandchildren.

Memorial donations may be made to the Alzheimer's Association, P.O. Box 803638, Chicago 60680-3638.

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