Cardiac surgeon Peter J.K. Starek dies; service on Sept. 18

Peter J.K. Starek, MD, an international leader and researcher in the field of heart valve replacement and repair and a longtime heart surgeon and professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, died Sept. 6, 2015, in Wrightsville Beach, NC.

Cardiac surgeon Peter J.K. Starek dies; service on Sept. 18 click to enlarge Peter J.K. Starek, MD

Dr. Starek was a faculty member in the UNC Department of Surgery, Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, from 1971 until his retirement in 2002. The Peter J.K. Starek M.D. Visiting Professorship in Cardiothoracic Surgery honors Dr. Starek and his contributions to UNC and to cardiac surgery. The professorship is an annual invited lecture delivered by graduates of the UNC Cardiothoracic Surgery residency training program.

Dr. Starek was known for his research on heart valve replacement and repair. During his residency in cardiovascular and thoracic surgery at New York Hospital Cornell Medical Center, Dr. Starek trained with C. Walton Lillehei, M.D., who pioneered open-heart surgery. Dr. Starek also did a fellowship in cardiac revascularization surgery at St. Luke’s Hospital in Milwaukee, WI, with Dudley Johnson, M.D., a pioneer of coronary artery bypass surgery.

During his cardiothoracic residency, Dr. Starek worked with Dr. Robert Kaster, an engineer who designed successful prosthetic heart valves. At UNC, that association helped Dr. Starek become the first U.S. university surgeon to investigate a new heart valve, the Medtronic-Hall valve. Dr. Starek’s work with the valve gave him international recognition and he chaired an international heart valve meeting in 1984. He also edited a book, Heart Valve Replacement and Reconstruction: Clinical Issues and Trends.

At UNC, Dr. Starek was an adult cardiac surgeon and trained many residents and medical students.  He was an innovator in patient care: he realized that patients’ surgical outcomes depended on post-operative care as well as surgical skills. Working with nurses and hospital administration, he was a leader in improving UNC Hospitals’ intensive care units. He also helped start the Orange Cardiovascular Foundation in Chapel Hill, a cardiac rehab program for post-operative patients.  

After his retirement, Dr. Starek and his family moved to Wrightsville Beach, NC.

His funeral will be Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, at 10 a.m. at Wrightsville United Methodist Church (4 Live Oak Dr, Wrightsville Beach, NC 28480).

In lieu of flowers, his family suggests that memorial gifts be made to support the Peter J.K. Starek, MD, Visiting Professorship in Cardiothoracic Surgery at UNC. For more information and to donate online, visit or mail a check payable to The Starek Visiting Professorship to: Mary Margaret Carroll, UNC Department of Surgery,  3009 Burnett-Womack Bldg., CB #7206,  Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7206.

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