James Walter Buchanan, 85, of Narberth, a pioneering veterinary cardiologist whose research, teaching, and skill as a surgeon helped formulate the science of treating animals with heart problems, died Monday, July 20, at his daughter’s home of complications from an earlier stroke.

“Along with Drs. David Detweiler, Don Patterson, and David Knight, Dr. Buchanan was integral in establishing veterinary cardiology as the scientific discipline we know today,” the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine said in a statement on PennVet.com.

Specialists at the school, where Dr. Buchanan worked for 40 years, credited him with implanting the first artificial pacemaker in a disabled client-owned dog in 1967, and developing surgical techniques to fix congenital heart defects in dogs.

Fresh from training at Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, he arrived in Philadelphia in 1960 to accept a research and teaching post at the vet school here.

A full professor, he served as department chair for many years, publishing numerous books, films, and articles on veterinary cardiology. His research interests included human and animal medicine, heart valve repair, transplantation, and artificial heart development.

In the 1960s, he worked with Penn’s Comparative Cardiovascular Studies Unit, one of the first collaborative efforts by cardiologists in human and animal medicine to study heart disease. Though initially the collaboration was controversial, Dr. Buchanan was an early fan, the school said in its statement.

The collaboration “was clearly a philosophy championed by Dr. Buchanan decades before it became de rigueur in academic circles,” the vet school said.

Dr. Buchanan was not only a brilliant medical cardiologist, he was also an accomplished cardiovascular surgeon. His work led to the development of the radiographic vertebral heart size measure, which is still in use.

Vertebral heart size is a number that links heart size to body size in dogs and cats, using mid-thoracic vertebrae as units of measure. The technique was introduced at a meeting in 1991 and published by Dr. Buchanan in 1995.

Dr. Buchanan was president of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine’s Cardiology Group from 1978 to 1981, and he led the Phi Zeta National Honor Society from 1975 to 1980.

Among his honors were a 1968 Research Career Development Award, a 1988 Distinguished Alumnus Award from Michigan State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and the 1992 National Veterinary Medical Data Base Publication Award.

He had a longstanding interest in photography and film production, and carefully archived his work, which he then made available online at no charge in the James Buchanan Cardiology Library.

“It gave up-and-coming young interns a chance to study what he had been working on,” said his wife, Marolyn. “He enjoyed that.”

Dr. Buchanan earned a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University before joining the Army as a medic deployed to Europe.
Courtesy of the Buchanan Family
Dr. Buchanan earned a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University before joining the Army as a medic deployed to Europe.

Although Dr. Buchanan retired from academia in 1996, he spent the next 25 years mentoring.

“Jim was my mentor at Penn,” George E. Eyster posted in an online message. “He guided my interests to cardiac surgery and pointed me to my academic career. ... His contributions to veterinary cardiology and cardiac surgery will be long remembered.”

Born in Jackson, Mich., Dr. Buchanan graduated from Jackson High School, where he played drums in the marching band. He met Marolyn Cline, his future wife, during summer band camp. They were together for 66 years.

He earned a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University before joining the Army as a medic deployed to Europe. He and his wife moved to Narberth when he became a Penn faculty member.

He enjoyed singing with the Narberth Methodist Church choir, performing the national anthem at the borough’s Fourth of July fireworks, and leading the carol sing-along at the Narberth train station.

In addition to music, Dr, Buchanan enjoyed home repairs, skiing, and travel. He joined Indian Guides and was scoutmaster for Narberth Troop 176.

Besides his wife, he is survived by children Scott, Mike, Maureen, and Dan; three grandchildren; a sister, and nieces and nephews.

Services will be private.

Donations may be made to the New Horizons Senior Center, Box 85, Narberth, Pa. 19072 or via https://www.newhorizonsseniorcenter.org/donate.html or to Penn Vet via https://www.vet.upenn.edu.