The Autobiography Project

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Albert - told to Lee Tori & Karen Borak-Lutkus Jehle's Autobiography (submitted 5/16/06)

"IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME," may be what Dr. Charles Baily, Philadelphia's world-renowned cardiac surgeon was thinking when he asked me, "Al, do you think you could build the world's largest heart?" I said "Yes" and thought no more of it, other than it was a challenge and I loved challenges. I learned to operate the spectrograph at MIT, designed mineral display cabinets for Bryn Mawr College and installed the African Gallery and the North American Gallery for the University of Pennsylvania's museum.

In the spring of 1953, Dr. Baily said, "Al, build it." I immediately started hiring workers, selecting materials and designing the structural framework for the world's biggest heart. It had to be large enough for a person to move through in the same sequence as blood would move through the heart. It took seven months of building, revising and building, but in February 1954, the world's largest heart began to beat in The Franklin Institute. And they did come: children, and visitors from all over the world passed through the heart. When the heart had its 50th anniversary of beating at The Franklin Institute, I was honored to be the invited guest at the celebration.

I went on to find more challenges in the sciences and the arts. I operated the heart/lung machines at over 1,000 open heart surgeries, operated a machine shop for heart/lung machine components, invented a cardiac catheter still used today, opened Philadelphia's first mineral shop and even developed a fossil preservation process with beeswax for the New Jersey Sate Museum. I built my own home on two and a half acres in Bucks County.

Now ninety-five percent blind, eighty-seven years of age and in assisted living, I still remember the heart that still beats in Philadelphia.

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