Tampa heart surgeon helped save lives with pioneering procedures

Dr. William Angell died at 87.
Dr. William W. Angell listened to the heart of patient Gary Arnold, then 49. Arnold was the first patient at Tampa General Hospital to receive a new heart surgery procedure called Transmyocardial Laser Revascularization System (TMLR for short).
Dr. William W. Angell listened to the heart of patient Gary Arnold, then 49. Arnold was the first patient at Tampa General Hospital to receive a new heart surgery procedure called Transmyocardial Laser Revascularization System (TMLR for short). [ TAM | 1996 ]
Published Aug. 1, 2022

On April 4, 1991, Dr. William Angell performed a six-and-a-half hour operation to replace a damaged heart valve. It was the first time the Ross procedure, named after a British doctor, was used in Hillsborough County.

It was not a first for Angell.

The heart surgeon spent his career pursuing new ways to extend and improve people’s lives, including taking part in one of the earliest successful heart transplants, experimenting with pig heart valves and testing a heart puncturing technique that took the place of heart bypass surgery. Angell, who at 87 was still working and planning his next adventure, died suddenly while traveling on June 20. The cause of his death is still unknown.

From the Tampa Tribune, May 12, 1991.
From the Tampa Tribune, May 12, 1991. [ Via ]

Some good

The heart surgeon’s career highlights often made the papers.

“It was just another day when Dr. William Angell left for work Saturday,” read The (Sunbury, Pennsylvania) Daily Item on Jan. 8, 1968. By the time the day was over, the article reported, he had taken part in one of the world’s early heart transplants. “Dr. Angell, a post doctoral fellow in surgery at the Stanford University Medical Center where the transplant was made, was raised in the McKean County town of Crosby where an aunt and two brothers live.”

Angell had three children, Cathy, Scott and Craig, with his first wife, Nancy. After they divorced, he married Judith, and they had two boys, Derek and Braden. Angell spent 10 years working at the Scripps Clinic in San Diego before his family moved to Tampa. Here, Angell started making headlines for his work.

In November of 1991, the St. Petersburg Times reported that “while heart valve replacement surgery has been done since the early 1960s and the ‘Ross switch’ and the ‘mini root’ have been used by (Donald) Ross and (Mark) O’Brien for almost 20 years, both operations are still somewhat new to this country. Cardiac surgeon William Angell and his team at St. Joseph’s are one of a half dozen in the United States that do these procedures.”

In 1996, he took part in a Food and Drug Administration trial through Tampa General Hospital using a new laser technique for patients who weren’t candidates for heart bypass surgeries.

Angell started working with Dr. Lester Ordiway about 25 years ago, and, while the two approached their work from different perspectives, they were a good match.

“We got along, and that’s not a given for surgical groups,” Ordiway said. “The two of us were able to keep going and make it work all these years. I think we were doing people some good.”

From the St. Petersburg Times, Nov. 24, 1991.
From the St. Petersburg Times, Nov. 24, 1991. [ Via ]
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Tough as hell

As a kid, Scott Angell was struck by how grateful his dad’s patients were. As an adult, and a physician, it now makes sense. His dad was dealing with literal life and death.

That never slowed him down, said son Derek Angell.

Angell was as intense on vacation as he was in the operating room. He took his kids spear fishing, scuba diving, hunting and skiing. On a trip to the Bahamas, the family stayed in a remote place with no hospitals, so when Angell dropped a conch on his foot and cut it open, he sutured it back together himself.

Again and again, the doctor survived his own adventures. At 75, he fell while skiing and broke his arm. At 84, Angell cut his leg while sculling and caught a flesh-eating bacteria, which four hours of surgery repaired. He never complained, Derek Angell said.

“He was tough as hell.”

Angell’s children carry on his devotion to work and family, Scott Angell said. And the heart surgeon’s work continues.

“The people he worked with and trained are still spreading that knowledge,” Scott Angell said, “passing the techniques and expertise to other doctors who can carry it on over time. We’re all reflections of our teachers.”

Poynter news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.

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