TV

Dr. Kathy Magliato is real-life heart of NBC’s ‘Heartbeat’

Melissa George stars as Dr. Alex Panttiere on the drama Heartbeat .
Melissa George stars as Dr. Alex Panttiere on the drama Heartbeat . NBC

This is all very surreal for Dr. Kathy Magliato.

Her life’s work has inspired a TV medical drama, Heartbeat, premiering at 8 p.m. Tuesday on NBC.

Melissa George stars as a brilliant but unorthodox heart/lung transplant surgeon, a doctor without boundaries. The character’s name is Alex Panttiere, but make no mistake: She’s a barely fictionalized version of Dr. Magliato, one of the few female cardiothoracic surgeons in the world.

“All of the stories are stories that have occurred in my life,” says Magliato, who put this all in motion when she published her memoirs, Heart Matters, in 2010. “Every single character in the show is based on a person I either worked with in the past or am working with in the present.”

Which means Magliato, who is a co-executive producer, must lead quite an interesting existence.

In addition to a hectic hospital life in which Alex Panttiere performs the cutting-edge surgeries that no other doctor will touch, she juggles a personal life that includes a gay ex-husband, two well-rounded kids and a new romance with a fellow doctor who’s perfect for her.

“And she does it all with such tenacity and spunk,” George marvels.

There’s also a potential love triangle in the making when Panttiere’s former mentor joins the hospital staff. That part, Magliato points out, is one of the few liberties that the show has taken. “I asked my husband about a love triangle,” the real-life doc jokes, “but he won’t go for it.”

Magliato made a name for herself working at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., and was director of the Ventricular Assist Device/Artificial Heart Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

But when she wrote her Heart Matters, which was published by Random House, she didn’t plan on it being about her. The idea was to educate readers about heart disease.

“But as I started to create this book, I started adding real stories about patients I had taken care of,” she says. “And wrapped around their stories came my story, so it morphed into a memoir.”

The book became a series after Magliato regaled the wife of an NBC Universal exec with her colorful stories during a dinner party.

The book became a series after Magliato regaled the wife of NBC Universal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer with her colorful stories during a dinner party. After that, everyone who met her concluded that she was a TV show waiting to happen.

“What’s so amazing and surreal is that for so long this was just words on a page,” Magliato says. “Then it was a character based on a book that I wrote. But now it has come to life onscreen. The words are coming out of the actors’ mouths. That leap from page to screen is really unbelievable.”

George, an Australian actress whose past TV credits include Alias (in 2003-2004), In Treatment (in 2008) and The Slap (2015), agrees that this woman deserves a show.

“When I met Kathy Magliato, I was so inspired,” George says. “I just learned so much: the way she treats people, her attitude, her one-liners. I was writing down tons of notes. She’s absolutely brilliant.”

In the debut episode, Alex stops at nothing to get a dying patient a new heart. The second episode, airing at 7 p.m. Wednesday (which will become Heartbeat’s usual time slot), Alex pushes for a risky surgery involving conjoined twins, one of whom has cancer.

The book became a series after Magliato regaled the wife of an NBC Universal exec with her colorful stories during a dinner party.

“There’s a lot of heart,” George says of her character. “She cares a lot and it’s beautiful to see her interact with her patients. She loves them so much. She’ll incorporate herself into their lives.

“She’s the kind of doctor who, if there’s no family member there after a surgery, she’ll dress in plain clothes and sit next to the patient until they wake up so they’ll feel there’s a family member there.

“She’s a doctor who really wants to open up her heart to these people. I love that about her.”

Heartbeat

  • Premieres at 8 p.m. Tuesday, then moves to 7 p.m. Wednesday
  • KXAS/Channel 5
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