Carolinas HealthCare System

Paul W. Sanger, MD, right, was a thoracic surgeon from Charlotte who helped to organize the 38th Evacuation Hospital, a group of about 400 doctors, nurses and other personnel who helped take care of the wounded and ill during World War II in the United Kingdom, North Africa and Italy. He returned to Charlotte after the war and founded the premier cardiovascular institute in the area that accomplished many medical breakthroughs in his time. Today, the Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute stands as part of his legacy.

Cardiovascular Pioneer

Carolinas HealthCare System’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute

Paul W. Sanger, MD, was interviewed by Ernie Pyle, the famous war correspondent, during the 38th Evacuation Hospital’s stint in North Africa during World War II, Dr. Sanger, the Charlotte physician who was described by Pyle as a “highly skilled, well-to-do professional man,” was asked about his experiences caring for the ill and wounded during the Allied campaign across North Africa in early 1943.

“I never go into town. I feel better out here than I’ve ever felt in my entire life,” Dr. Sanger told Pyle. “We were all prima donnas back home. We had every comfort money could buy. We would have been shocked at the idea of living like this. But we love it. We all do. I suppose we’ll be making our families live in tents when we get home.”

When Dr. Sanger did finally arrive back in Charlotte in 1945, he brought with him more than war stories, but a passion to see Charlotte on the forefront of modern medicine. And his breakthroughs in surgical technology and techniques would see his vision come true.

A few of his many accomplishments included:

  • Dr. Sanger became the first surgeon in Charlotte and the region to perform lobectomies and pneumonectomies, which were procedures meant to remove lung tissue that had been diseased due to tuberculosis or lung cancer.
  • In the late 1940s, Dr. Sanger helped lead the Heineman Foundation, which had been a small organization funded to provide periodicals, studies and research reports to physicians. Dr. Sanger began hands-on experiments and research by broadening the scope of the Foundation and eventually set up the foundation’s first lab on the Charlotte Memorial Hospital campus.
  • Frederick Harvey Taylor, MD, joined Dr. Sanger in the practice in 1954 and their partnership would eventually lead to the Sanger Clinic.
  • With Drs. Maurice Lesage and Edward McCall, along with Professor W.E. Shinn from N.C. State College’s textile school, Drs. Sanger and Taylor helped develop the first artificial artery. The first synthetic vessels were made out of a material called Orlon and manufactured on a machine originally built to make men’s neckties.
  • Heineman, under Dr. Sanger’s direction and working with Terrell Machine Co. of Charlotte, built the city’s first heart-lung machine for use in open-heart surgery.
  • In 1959, Dr. Sanger, Taylor and Francis Robiscek, then a young doctor who had emigrated from Hungary, performed the first “blue baby” surgery, bypassing a 12-year-old’s defective heart chamber.
  • By the end of the 1960s, the Sanger team was performing about 400 open heart surgeries every year.
  • In 1968, the Sanger team also found a way to preserve a heart outside of a body for 27 hours, a crucial step in the advancement of open heart surgery. That same year, Dr. Sanger was diagnosed with liver cancer. He traveled to Houston, Texas, to be treated at St. Luke’s Hospital. He died in Houston, just nine days before his 63rd birthday.

Harry Golden, a newspaperman who was friends with Dr. Sanger, wrote after his friend’s death, “Hundreds of people will express the idea that Sanger was the best friend he had on earth. He was a man who made every patient a friend for life. He was a great humanitarian. He was deeply concerned with the welfare of the world and its people ... "Dr. Sanger’s colleagues named the practice in honor of him after his death, and in 2005 Carolinas HealthCare System announced the Sanger Clinic would become part of the System.

Dr. Sanger’s hard work, vision and knowledge carry on today through the Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute, a nationally and internationally recognized center that provides high quality care for patients with cardiovascular disease with locations throughout North and South Carolina.