Dr. Lester R. Sauvage, a longtime Seattle heart surgeon, died June 5 after a career that included more than 10,000 surgeries. He was 88.
Dr. Lester R. Sauvage, a prolific Seattle heart surgeon who chose medicine over the priesthood but infused his practice with faith, died June 5 in his sleep, a family member said. He was 88.
Daughter Helen Santucci, of Seattle, said the cause of death was complications from Parkinson’s disease. A funeral Mass is planned for Friday.
Dr. Sauvage performed more than 10,000 surgeries in his career and founded what’s now known as the Hope Heart Institute in 1959 to advance research, education and awareness of heart disease and treatment.
A nurse, Helen Mar, who scrubbed in for Dr. Sauvage for years during his tenure at Providence Seattle Medical Center which became Swedish Medical Center, said he was eternally “in awe” of the human anatomy. He came to each surgery with a long loupe and would stop and examine patients closely during operations.
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“He would lean over and say, ‘Helen, didn’t God create the most amazing human body?’ ” Mar recalled.
Dr. Sauvage wrote 253 professional papers, one medical book and four books for the general public, family members said. His last book, “Opening Hearts,” was published two weeks before his death. He pioneered work in the early 1960s that paved the way for coronary artery bypass graft surgery in wide use today.
Dr. Sauvage was known for his high energy level and fierce advocacy for care of the whole person, not just the ailment, colleagues said. He also was known for extraordinary acts of kindness toward patients, including meeting them at the airport before surgery, feeding patients and washing their hair.
He also engaged in spiritual discussion with patients and others, his daughter said. “He truly, truly felt that he was called by God,” she said.
Born on Nov. 15, 1926, in Wapato, Yakima County, Dr. Sauvage attended Gonzaga High School for Boys, Gonzaga University and St. Louis University Medical School, receiving his doctor of medicine degree at age 21.
He worked in the Army Medical Corps in Korea. He married Mary Ann Marti on June 9, 1956. They had eight children. She died in February.
Despite his busy schedule, Dr. Sauvage was always genial and gentle with his children, Santucci said.
“It was always an utter mystery to me how he could work 20 hours a day, seven days a week, and he would come home and be delightful,” she said.
In his free time, he was an ardent fan of the Seattle Mariners and the Gonzaga University basketball team.
He is survived by eight children, including Santucci: Lester Sauvage Jr., John Sauvage, Paul Sauvage, Joe Sauvage, Laura Scheer, Bill Sauvage and Mary Ann Huddleston. He is also survived by his sister, Cora Fetchko, of Pittsburgh, Pa., and 31 grandchildren.
Recitation of the rosary will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and a funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Friday, both at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Seattle.