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Dr. Joseph K. Perloff, renowned UCLA cardiologist, dies at 89

Dr. Joseph K. Perloff, a renowned cardiologist, died Aug. 17 in his home in Los Angeles from complications due to coronary artery disease. He was 89. (Courtesy of Marjorie Perloff)

By Julia Raven

Sept. 2, 2014 12:00 a.m.

Dr. Joseph K. Perloff, a renowned cardiologist who brought international recognition to UCLAs cardiology program, died Aug. 17 in his home in Los Angeles from complications due to coronary artery disease. He was 89.

Perloff’s friends and family knew him as a man with unlimited drive and curiosity and as a cardiologist who was nothing less than a legend.

“(Perloff) was a master clinician, a showman really,” said Dr. James Weiss, a former student and coworker of Perloff and chief of UCLA’s cardiology division. “He could listen with a stethoscope and make diagnoses that would leave you astounded. It was like watching a magician, really.”

Perloff was born on Dec. 21, 1924, in New Orleans and received a bachelor’s degree from Tulane University. After receiving his medical degree at Louisiana State University, he was on the faculty at Georgetown University for 13 years and taught at the University of Pennsylvania for five years before following his wife, who became a professor at USC, to Los Angeles in 1977.

Perloff came to UCLA, where he was hired as a Streisand/American Heart Association professor of medicine and pediatrics. He specialized in congenital heart disease and was the first director of the Ahmanson/UCLA Adult Congenital Heart Disease Center. Perloff stepped down as director in 2001 but kept an active relationship with UCLA.

Perloff helped build the cardiology department at UCLA and is known for establishing a program to care for adult patients with congenital heart disease, Weiss said.

“His greatest gift was really his academic accomplishments and the recognition they brought to UCLA because he worked here,” Weiss said. “For the many medical students, residents and cardiology fellows, he was legendary to them. He was known all over the world.”

Carey Perloff, his daughter, said she remembers Joseph Perloff for taking on numerous creative projects and for his passion for studying archaeology.

Perloff would frequent the J. Paul Getty Museum and craft collages for friends and family members’ birthdays and special occasions, she said.

“He was a wonderful artist,” Carey Perloff said. “He loved to draw and make things, and we would do projects together. … We made Christmas tree ornaments and collages; I loved to do things with him like that.”

Perloff spent a lot of time working and traveling abroad, going to Japan, Israel and Greece among other countries because he loved the landscape and temples, she said.

“When he was at Georgetown, we went almost every weekend to a Smithsonian and went to archeology lectures,” Carey Perloff said. “He went all over the world, going from Greek temples to hiking across Israel.”

As a teacher, Perloff was able to use his cross-subject curiosity in both arts and sciences to present creative lectures on cardiology, Weiss said.

“He was a legendary teacher with very broad interests in the history of medicine, art and philosophy,” Weiss said. “He would give lectures (at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center) and could integrate modern art and cardiology.”

As a professor, Weiss said Perloff would use the pedantic method and never give up on a student. If a student got a question wrong, Perloff would ask a simpler one and would continue until the student got a question right.

When working with staff and patients at the hospital, Weiss said Perloff remained formal but never lost his personal touch. He made an effort to be friendly with them.

“He was a warm person who had a great imagination,” Weiss said. “He was very well liked as a person as well as a teacher.”

Perloff demonstrated his relentless determination through his presence in the hospital, where he worked to ensure projects were completed on time, said Dr. Jamil Aboulhosn of UCLA’s cardiology department.

When Perloff was in his 80s, he co-authored a textbook along with approximately 15 other writers, Aboulhosn said. With deadlines quickly approaching, Perloff refused to sit back and would go office to office to check in on the authors.

“He would come in and I would see him in his walker going down the hall to people’s offices,” Aboulhosn said. “He wouldn’t just send an email – he wanted to meet with you. You knew you weren’t going home that night; you were going to finish that chapter.”

Outside of his career, Perloff tried to assist individuals in underserved communities by donating money to charities and often seeing patients free of charge, Aboulhosn said.

“He was also very conscientious when it came to social causes, racial disparities, bigotry and the underserved. He was very open-minded and progressive,” Aboulhosn said. “If everyone was like Joe, the world would be a lot better.”

Perloff is survived by his two daughters, Nancy and Carey, three grandchildren and his wife of 61 years, Marjorie Perloff. An invitation-only service will be held in honor of Perloff on Sept. 28 at 11 a.m. Further inquiries about the service can be addressed to Yvonne Jose at [email protected].

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