Monday, January 08, 2007

In Memorium: A Legacy Worthy of Commemoration

Dr. Buzz Helseth saved kids' lives

The pioneering children's heart surgeon worked at three hospitals simultaneously.

By David Peterson, Star Tribune

Dr. Hovald (Buzz) Helseth, a pioneering children's heart surgeon and an old-school Norwegian to his bones, died Wednesday at age 72.

"He was senior partner in cardiac surgery at Methodist [Hospital], chief of cardiac surgery at Hennepin County Medical Center, and a mainstay at Children's [Hospitals and Clinics] all at the same time," said Dr. David Overman, a pediatric heart surgeon and a protégé. "How one could possibly do that is just beyond me."

The answer, said his wife, Betty Helseth of Minnetonka: "He worked hard. Seven days a week." Helseth saved many lives by stepping forth as a pioneer in the use of more than one risky medical procedure, colleagues said. They included the "Norwood procedure," dating to the early 1980s, a means of surgically treating a heart defect known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome. "Up to that time it was a death sentence, a hopeless case," Overman said. "A matter of months after the publication of that operation, he tried it -- and that child is still alive. Buzz was the first to try it in the middle part of this country and for many years was the only one doing it here." Helseth was raised as a doctor's son in rural eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota. He graduated from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., and from medical school at the University of Minnesota. He built the pediatric cardiac surgery program at Minneapolis Children's, with open-heart surgery beginning in 1974.

He was the same man at home and at work, colleagues and family members say: "Stern, yet deeply loving and deeply concerned about our best interests," said daughter Anne Seeland of Hopkins.

"He wasn't one to sit around chatting with his patients' families," Overman said. "He asked them to get out of the way while he took care of the problem. Yet it rarely caused resentment, because they understood that this was a guy who was totally committed to his patients."

Betty, his wife of 48 years, said his quiet sense of duty emerged from their first -- blind -- date. "I was at the U and he at St. Olaf. I remember on that first date when he said, 'Oh my goodness, this is 10:30 Saturday evening, I've got to get down to Northfield -- I've got a test Monday morning.' "

In addition to his wife, he is survived by sons Peter of Golden Valley and Paul of Minnetonka; daughters Anne Seeland and Sara Johnson, both of Hopkins, and 10 grandchildren.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, 18360 Minnetonka Blvd., Deephaven. Visitation will be Monday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Albin Chapel, 6855 Rowland Rd., Eden Prairie, and an hour before services at the church. Interment is Wednesday at 10 a.m. at Hillside Cemetery.

* * * * *

Rest in peace, Dr. Helseth. Dr. Buzz Helseth is the late father of my best friend and colleague, Paul Kjoss Helseth, Ph.D. Today, I grieve with Paul and his wife, Marla, but I rejoice with them in the hope they have in Buzz Helseth's savior, Jesus Christ, who will raise us together unto eternal life.

What pain we know from the curse
that returns our bodies to the ground,
that lowers our frames into the sod,
from which you made us to become
the image of the Triune God!

1 comment:

Steven Douglas said...

It is odd how people are interconnected. The late Dr. Helseth performed a life-saving operation on my wife's father's heart when he was a little boy. Her whole family seemed to know him pretty well and remember him fondly (and with great thankfulness). As you know, her dad recently died due to an unrelated heart problem. My deepest condolences to Dr. (Paul) Helseth and his family.