Dr. Charles P. Bailey - Heart Surgery Pioneer

Dr. Bailey, at 46 [is] one of the most daring innovators in heart surgery “. . . Time magazine

Dr. Bailey could well be considered as the father of modern heart surgery,” Denton Cooley, surgeon-in-chief at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston

Henry is flipping through papers, and he hands me a copy of a Time magazine article from March 25, 1957.

See this doctor?  Dr. Bailey was another famous doctor at St. Barnabus. He was a famous promoter of open heart surgery. He was a maniac. Of course if you ever watch open-heart surgery it’s like watching a butcher. I knew of him but I didn’t work with him. But I quickly fell in love like nuts with his secretary, Nancy Conforti. She didn’t know what was coming to her (we had a good laugh at that one.) 

Her English was very good.  She was very nice and very lively.  See here, (pointing at his photo album.) Nancywas in a beauty contest in Purling, NY, August 24, 1959. Nancywon; she and her sister were always very cute.  When she was young kid, she worked in downtown New York City in the garment district.  The owner liked her very much. She also liked sports. 

I taught her to play tennis, and she got pretty good. She had the most powerful shot of the girls on her baseball team. 

(At this point Nancy walked in while we were talking.) Nancy, you played baseball? 

Sure!  I learned baseball when I was young in the Bronx. We played in the street. I used to love it. I also learned to play tennis pretty good, didn’t I?  (She swings an imaginary tennis racket, then laughs at her own joke.) 

(Nancy continues.) You know, after meeting Henry, Dr. Bailey was always mad at me. The patients were very sick. He operated when they were near the end of life, and many still died even after surgery. The families would be sitting there crying, waiting to see Dr. Bailey. I was supposed to be very quiet and serious because they’d be crying. But Henry wrote me such funny love letters, I’d hold them under my desk and I could not stop laughing. His English was so bad, I could hardly read them – but he always made me laugh. I’d read them over and over. (She mimes sitting at a desk and holding the letters down and reading them and just looks at Henry and they both laugh at the memory.)  

Do you want to read the letters?  I saved every one of them. –  Henry and Nancy Zguda

Sources: Time Magazine, March 25, 1957 (cover photo)
Wiley Online Library, Clin. Cardiol. 28, 208-209 (2005), Profiles in Cardiology
Philadelphia Inquirer, philly.com, August 19, 1993

On a sad note, I always politely refused to read the love letters – I felt like an outsider and that it would be an invasion of intimate privacy. They were a four-inch packet of letters tied lovingly with ribbon and saved for over forty years. In later years Nancy offered them to me several times. I didn’t feel right. I thoroughly regret not taking them. Like so many other of Nancy’s possessions and papers, Henry’s love letters disappeared/were thrown out by others near the end.

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