Pioneering UF heart surgeon passes away

Myron W. “Bill” Wheat Jr., M.D.A pioneering University of Florida heart surgeon whose team performed Florida’s first open-heart surgery in 1959 has passed away.

Myron W. “Bill” Wheat Jr., M.D., died on Wednesday, Sept. 12, at the age of 88.

“We have lost a great leader who paved the way for many generations of physicians and helped make new treatments available to numerous patients in Florida and around the country,” said Michael L. Good, M.D., dean of the UF College of Medicine.

Wheat came to the UF College of Medicine in 1958, shortly after the college’s founding, serving as an assistant professor of surgery and chief of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery.

“He was a very good surgeon, and a very well-organized surgeon,” said Leonard T. Furlow Jr., M.D., a retired UF plastic surgeon who was a surgical resident during Wheat’s tenure at UF.

Under Wheat’s direction, Florida’s first open-heart surgery was carried out at Shands at UF, and the UF cardiovascular surgery program became a leading diagnostic, heart surgery and heart research center in the Southeast. In 1968, Wheat was named director of professional services and chief clinical physician at Shands at UF.

“He attracted good physicians, and people came from all over the state to receive care here,” said William Pfaff, M.D., a UF professor emeritus who was on the College of Medicine faculty at the same time as Wheat.

After 14 years at UF, Wheat went on to hold faculty positions at the University of Louisville School of Medicine and the University of South Florida College of Medicine. He also founded Cardiac Surgical Associates in Clearwater, Fla., and St. Petersburg, Fla.
A cum laude graduate of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Wheat completed his residency and clinical fellowship in chest surgery at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. He held academic positions, hospital appointments and consultancies at universities, hospitals and veterans affairs medical centers in Missouri, Kentucky and Florida.

Wheat was the author, co-author and editor of numerous medical textbooks and scientific papers. He also served as a professional ambassador in the medical cross-cultural exchange program of the nonprofit organization People to People International.

He was a member of many professional organizations, including the American Association for Thoracic Surgery, for which he served as secretary; the Thoracic Surgery Directors Association, for which he was emeritus director of the board; the American Board of Thoracic Surgery, for which he was an officer of the board; the Society of Thoracic Surgeons; the Society of Cardiothoracic Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland; and the Southern Thoracic Surgical Association. He also was a member of the Distinguished Flying Cross Society and the National Society, Sons of the American Revolution.

A fighter pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1943 to 1946, Wheat was a first lieutenant assigned to the 86th Fighter Bomber Group (527 Squadron) in the European Theater of World War II. He flew a P-47 on 75 missions in Italy, France and Germany, and served as flight leader. For extraordinary service, he received a Distinguished Flying Cross, a Distinguished Unit Citation and the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters.

Wheat is survived by former wife Erlene A. Wheat and children: Penny Wheat (Richard Williams), of Gainesville, and grandson Justin Langer, of Mill Valley, Calif.; Chip Wheat; Douglas Wheat, and grandson Elijah P. Wheat, of Gainesville; and Pamela Schoenster (Tom), of Oakland, Tenn.; former wife Carol Wheat, of Tampa, and son, Christopher Wheat of Helsinki, Finland and Stockholm, Sweden; long-time partner, Irene Burchill, of Gainesville; and sisters Catherine Anderson (Jack), of Arkansas, and Janie Kunin, of Maui, Hawaii.

A private memorial service will be held in Wheat’s honor.

A memorial in Wheat’s name is being established at the Everglades Field Trial Club. For details, email Christopher Wheat at myron@christopherwheat.net.

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Czerne M. Reid's picture

Czerne M. Reid

College of Medicine / Science Writer

Science writer for University of Florida’s College of Medicine. Before joining UF in 2008, Czerne was the health and science writer at The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina. In...Read More