McTaggart at heart of medical advances

DON McTaggart remembers when the North-West Coast built its first intensive care unit at what was then the Burnie Hospital - it was the first ICU in the state.

"It was in the mid-1960s - John Taylor, the anaesthetist and I combined to set it up," says the now Launceston-based Professor McTaggart.

"We did it for two reasons.

"We had a major problem with serious traffic accidents, which were presenting to a small hospital - we needed an ICU unit."

The second reason was the management of heart attack victims.

There were a lot of them on the North-West Coast - and still are.

"It was the advent of the defibrillator which changed the management of heart attack patients," Professor McTaggart says.

And digresses.

"I still remember the assistance of the defibrillator in the treatment of the first long-term survivor of heart attack at the old Burnie Hospital," he says.

"It was in the middle of town with houses all around."

The husband of one of the hospital's senior nurses had a heart attack at home across the road from the hospital.

She managed to get him to the hospital.

"We applied cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and defibrillated him and he survived for many years," says Professor McTaggart.

"He was a plumber by trade and fixed all the plumbing at the hospital at no charge for ages after that."

Professor McTaggart remembers when the first echocardiogram was installed in Tasmania in the late 1970s.

He still believes that the multi- dimensional diagnostic echocardiogram revolutionised cardiology - the medical speciality that he has made his own in Northern Tasmania in the past 40 years.

"I had it installed in my rooms in High Street, Burnie, initially - it was the first in the state, even before the Royal Hobart Hospital," he says.

The young Northern Tasmanian physician brought knowledge of the innovative equipment home with him from overseas, having worked and studied in the UK for several years.

"These machines brought cardiology out of the hospitals - I could operate independently in my own rooms," he says.

Professor McTaggart is coy about his age and the length of time that the former Sydneysider has been practising medicine.

He shouldn't be.

The number of innovations in his profession that he has been at the centre of is impressive.

Now comfortably into his seventh decade, he is still working and holding his own.

"I can still take part in the lusty debate on Thursday mornings at (Launceston General Hospital) cardiac meetings, which is a marker of where you are academically," he says.

He was the first subspecialist and the first cardiologist appointed at the LGH in the late 1970s.

It took nearly another 20 years for the first of the hospital's interventionalist cardiologists to be appointed to balance the skills of the unit that Professor McTaggart describes now as one of the best of its size nationally.

"It's the only non-metropolitan unit in the country accredited for the whole of advanced training in cardiology," he says proudly.

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