KAET: 30 years from The Operation to The Latest Procedure

By Dru Sefton

In February 1983, Phoenix’s PBS station KAET aired the world’s first live telecast of open-heart surgery. The station marks that upcoming 30th anniversary with a pilot for its new occasional medical series, The Latest Procedure, featuring an anterior total hip replacement.

Dr. Ted Firestone wore a minicam on his head during filming for The Latest Procedure so that viewers could see what he did during surgery. Phoenix’s Arizona Public Media/KAET debuted its latest medical series Nov. 13. (Photo: Arizona PBS)

For the hourlong surgery, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Ted Firestone of Scottsdale recorded the entire operation through a minicam strapped to his head. Viewers are with him as he meets with the patient, scrubs in, explains surgical tools and provides a personal tour of the operating room before surgery begins. They also observe what Firestone sees as he operates.

During the show, host Jim Cissell interviews Firestone at the station’s studios at Arizona State University in Phoenix. Firestone reviews hip-replacement basics and explains how he uses instruments and implant components during surgery. In a taped segment, the physician examines the patient at her two-week follow-up appointment.

“Our goal of The Latest Procedure is to inform individuals about healthy living practices, medical discoveries, diagnoses and treatments to foster better health,” said Kelly McCullough, general manager. The multimedia project uses broadcast as well as web, social media and educational outreach. Content adviser is the Maricopa County Medical Society.

“I find it somewhat prophetic,” McCullough said, “that one of Dr. Firestone’s best-known patients, Dr. Edward Diethrich, was also the world-renowned cardiac surgeon featured in Eight’s live telecast of open-heart surgery in 1983.” Diethrich was medical director of Arizona Heart Institute when it co-produced The Operation with Eight in February 1983.

That program was carried live by 97 PBS member stations in 33 states, aired on tape delay on the BBC and run as a segment on ABC World News Tonight. The Operation was beamed from a microwave dish atop St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Facility in Phoenix to mountaintop towers, then to the studio in Tempe, over telephone lines to Los Angeles and up to a satellite.

Since then, KAET has broadcast The Implant: Hip Replacement Surgery in 1987; The Implant II: Knee Replacement Surgery in 1990; and The Implant III: Hip Revision Surgery in 1996. All were pre-taped; McCullough told Current “there was no reason” for the station to produce the new programs live.

The second program in the new series, airing in February, will cover new techniques in cardiovascular treatments. KAET is seeking funding to produce additional episodes, McCullough said.

Programs produced so far have been backed by the Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation of Phoenix and the Friends of Eight. Co-production partners are Chris Wooley of VAS Communications/HDMD and Wayne Dickmann of Even Keel Productions, both Arizona firms.

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