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Heart surgeon was never more than a phone call away

ST. PETE BEACH — In May 2004, at the 13th hole of the golf course at St. Petersburg Country Club, a Canadian tourist felt a pain in his chest.

"It felt like someone had stabbed me with an ice pick, just below the ribs," said Gordon Demetrick of Stayner, Ontario.

Doctors at Bayfront Medical Center diagnosed aortic dissection — a torn heart valve — the same condition that had felled actor John Ritter and recently claimed the life of diplomat Richard Holbrooke.

Soon, Lu-Anne Demetrick was meeting with Dr. Luis Botero, a cardiothoracic surgeon. A calm, bespectacled man with a Colombian accent said he could repair her husband's heart.

Dr. Botero patched the torn valve with Kevlar in an 11-hour surgery. Demetrick , now 73 and healthy, credits that surgery with saving his life.

Dr. Botero, a former chief of staff at Bayfront Medical Center, died Dec. 27 at home of pancreatic cancer. He was 68.

"At that time I was absolutely frantic," said Lu-Anne Demetrick, 72. "He was a very calming man. He gave you a feeling of confidence and trust."

Her story has been replicated by the hundreds. Former patients have approached Dr. Botero in restaurants to thank him, or sent him cards and tokens every year.

"He was loved and admired by patients and staff," said cardiologist Andrew Rosenthal, who worked with Dr. Botero at Bayfront in the 1990s. "He was a great teacher and wanted to share his knowledge and skill sets."

Luis Miguel Botero was born in Medellin, Colombia, the third of nine children in a medical family. His father and grandfather were both surgeons. A framed photograph on a wall in his study shows a group of Colombian medical students dissecting a human body in 1892.

He met Margarita Lopez 50 years ago at a dance.

"I fell in love with his brain," said Margarita Botero, 63.

They married in 1966, the same year he earned an M.D. from Medellin's University of Antioquia. Regulations made him repeat his residency in the United States, which he did in Washington, D.C., and at the University of Virginia.

The family moved to St. Petersburg in 1980. He treated patients, taught thoracic and cardiovascular surgery at the University of South Florida and chaired surgery departments at Bayfront and All Children's Hospital.

Dr. Botero was chief of staff at Bayfront from 1997 to 1999, navigating the sometimes choppy political waters brought on by layoffs and occasional turf tensions between Bayfront and neighboring All Children's Hospital.

Until 2007, he performed surgeries at all south Pinellas County hospitals. He was called into surgery at all hours, but always tried to arrive in a three-piece suit.

"Most cardiothoracic surgeons, they are so up there on a pedestal because of what they do," said Chris Hildabrand, a nurse who worked with Dr. Botero at Northside Hospital. "When you have their heart in your hands, that's the top echelon when it comes to surgery. But he always talked to people. It was never about the money."

Dr. Botero also found time for mission trips to the Dominican Republic, performing open-heart surgery on indigent residents.

At home, he read Albert Camus, Miguel de Cervantes and Time magazine, as well as history and geography. He delighted in playing the pursuing monster with his grandchildren, and was planning a trip to India with his wife when doctors found pancreatic cancer in 2009.

Dr. Botero was released from St. Anthony's Hospital on Dec. 23. He watched his grandchildren decorate the Christmas tree. On the afternoon of Dec. 25, he said he felt tired and went to bed. He died two days later.

Despite his accomplishments, Dr. Botero never thought he would have an obituary worth writing.

"Just say that I died, that I had three lovely daughters and five grandchildren," he recently told Margarita. "The people who knew me know what I did. The others won't care."

The day after he died, family members opened a box of photographs for his funeral service. At the top of the heap, they found a poem often used at funerals, which begins this way:

Don't grieve for me, for now I'm free

I'm following the path God has chosen for me

They have no doubt Dr. Botero placed the poem in the box for them to discover.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]

.Biography

Dr. Luis Miguel Botero

Born: Feb. 28, 1942.

Died: Dec. 27, 2010.

Survivors: Wife Margarita; daughters Claudia Moore and her husband, Michael, and Sandra and Monique Botero; eight siblings living in Colombia; and five grandchildren.

Heart surgeon was never more than a phone call away 01/04/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 7, 2011 8:44am]
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