NBC’ ‘Heartbeat’ Dramatizes Real Life Heart Surgeon Dr. Kathy Magliato

To the uninformed, Heartbeat, NBC’s new medical drama about Dr. Kathy Magliato, renowned heart and lung surgeon, would appear to be a work of fiction. Not because it is unrealistic that a woman could be a heart surgeon, but because of her unique life and the unusual supporting characters in the show. But she swears to Star-Telegram that it’s all true — mostly.

“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.”

This includes her former rocker husband who is now openly gay, the current romance with a fellow doctor and former romance with a hospital mentor. Apparently, the latter is made up by NBC. There is no love triangle in real life. “I asked my husband about a love triangle, but he won’t go for it.”

Heartbeat premieres on Wednesday, March 23, at 8:00 p.m., with a preview airing tonight at 9:00 p.m. following The Voice. Melissa George (The Slap) portrays the spunky surgeon (who is given the fictional name Dr. Alexandra Panettiere) who doesn’t like to play by the rules. She is very good at her job, but not so good when it comes to friendships. She tells Millicent Silvano, the hospital Chief Operations Officer in the pilot episode, “I don’t have any friends,” after she just achieved another victory. Millicent replies, “Well, you’re missing out,” and walks away. Millicent (played by Shelley Conn) isn’t a bad person, but she is fed up with Alexandra calling her own shots and not following protocol.

Dave Annable (Red Band Society, Brothers and Sisters) plays liver transplant surgeon Dr. Pierce Harrison and love interest on Heartbeat. He may or may not be competing against Dr. Jesse Shane (Australian actor, Don Hany) for Alex’s attention. Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project) plays the other man in Alex’s life, her ex-husband and apparently still good friend and cook. The show also sports surprise casting of Jamie Kennedy as the bizarre and inappropriate Dr. Callahan and comedian D.L. Hughley as Dr. Hackett, who says about three words in the pilot.

In real life, Dr. Magliato currently serves as the Director of Women’s Cardiac Services at Saint John’s Medical Center in Santa Monica, California. When she began writing Heart Matters, she did so as a way 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.”

Heartbeat became a reality when Magliato was sharing stories with the wife of NBCUniversal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer at a dinner party. The guests all agreed that her life was like a TV show. And now it is one.

“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.”

Melissa George understands that she has her work cut out for her portraying the good doctor in Heartbeat. “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,” says George, “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.”

[Image via NBC]