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Heart Health

Discover what’s possible. Browse these features to find out more about the impact of University of Minnesota research, education, and care—and how you can help.

A chance meeting with a U cardiologist likely saved Rick Christensen from a burst aortic aneurysm.

Fate works in funny ways. Just ask Rick Christensen, who learned he had a life-threatening aortic aneurysm after a chance meeting in 2012 with University of Minnesota Health cardiologist S. Kimara March, M.D.


Tens of thousands of Minnesotans soon could be asking this question: Can a daily low-dose aspirin prevent a heart attack or stroke for me?

A “fibrin patch” made in the lab of Jianyi Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., may help improve the effectiveness of stem cell therapies for the heart. (Photo: Jim Bovin)

Stem cell therapy has been a hot topic in cardiovascular sciences for more than a decade. The theory is that if doctors can successfully introduce stem cells--unspecialized cells that have the remarkable ability to become different types of specialized cells as they grow—to areas of heart muscle that have been injured during a heart attack, the damage could be repaired.


Being born with heart disease presents challenges for both babies and their families. And those challenges can last a lifetime. The U's Lazaros Kochilas, M.D., hopes to get a better picture of what these health issues are by analyzing 30 years of data from 47 centers across the country.

Cardiologist Greg Helmer, M.D., is leading a new clinical study to evaluate a device's potential to prevent the need for open-heart surgery in some people who have aortic stenosis. (Photo: Jim Bovin)

Before a new drug or medical device can be made available to patients, it must go through lengthy and stringent testing through a clinical trial to make sure it's safe and effective. While these studies do carry some risk, they offer access to tomorrow's treatments right now. And the Lillehei Clinical Research Unit is there to make sure it's a safe process for participants and a smooth one for investigators.


The latest issue of Innovators at Heart is now available in print and online.

(Photo: Phil Ladisa)

At the University of Minnesota Medical Center today, the lung transplant waiting list is half the length it was six months ago, thanks in part to a new technology that's making more donated lungs worthy of transplantation. "For some patients, that is the difference between life and death," says U assistant professor of surgery and cardiothoracic surgeon Gabriel Loor, M.D.

Tom Anderson’s most vivid memories of campus are of walking across the Washington Avenue bridge with his mother while he was recovering from a risky open-heart surgery in 1963. (Photo: Jim Bovin)

Though Tom Anderson is a University of Minnesota alumnus ('80 B.S.), his most vivid memories of campus are from his childhood. That's because in the fall of 1963, Anderson spent about a month at the Variety Club Heart Hospital after having a risky open-heart surgery to repair his congenital atrial septal defect, which causes reduced oxygen in the body's blood supply and gets progressively worse. At the time, even under the skilled care of the University team that pioneered the procedure, it carried a 50-50 chance of success.


At Family Camp Weekends hosted by the University of Minnesota's Paul and Sheila Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Center, "you'll see families just being families," says Joline Dalton, M.S., C.G.C., a U genetics counselor who helped start the wildly popular camp five years ago. "It's a place where you don't have to worry if your child can participate, because everything is geared toward MD."


Giving a gift of appreciated stock, bonds, or mutual fund shares that have been held more than one year can provide an immediate benefit to research, education, or care at the University of Minnesota--and it may be more tax-efficient than giving cash.

Am EMT from a family of community servants, Robert Eddy hopes his gift advances the U's research into improving survival rates after sudden cardiac arrest. (Photo: Jason Wachter)

Because he's hardwired to help, Robert Eddy '74, a philanthropist and volunteer Sherburne County Sheriff's deputy, former firefighter, and EMT, has made it his life's mission to bring more people back to life after sudden cardiac arrest.

With advice from the Cardio-Oncology Clinic, Jack Reher found a routine that made his heart strong enough to withstand a stem-cell transplant to treat his lymphona. (Photo: Scott Streble)

Early-stage cancer patients have become one of medicine's biggest success stories, as the almost 14 million survivors in the United States would be happy to attest. But for many of them, another threat lurks in the background: heart disease. Through its integrated cardio-oncology program, the University of Minnesota has taken aim at this problem with a full-bore range of research and treatment facilities geared toward the prevention and early detection of heart disease in cancer patients, and its physicians are helping patients already diagnosed with cardiovascular problems withstand cancer treatment.

Tom Busch's gift to aortic valve disease research honors his mother and hero, Dorothy Busch.

When Dorothy Busch died in 2011 at age 92, her son, Tom Busch, told his cousin that his mom was his hero. The cousin, he recalls, replied, "You know, Tom, she was a hero to many, many people." It was that sentiment that prompted Tom to set up the Dorothy M. Busch Memorial Endowed Fund to support aortic valve disease and related research at the University of Minnesota.

Cindy Martin, M.D. (Photo: Scott Streble)

At the Adult Congenital and Cardiovascular Genetics Center at the University of Minnesota, Cindy Martin, M.D., works with people who were born with heart defects or inherited heart diseases and finds ways to alleviate their symptoms. But in the laboratory, she conducts research that delves deeper into what exactly in the patients' genetic makeup caused their disease. And many of her patients jump at the chance to be a part of it.

View a photo slideshow of the opening. (Photo: Scott Streble)

The University of Minnesota revealed another 280,000 square feet of state-of-the-art space on June 14 at a grand opening celebration for its Cancer and Cardiovascular Research Building.

Kay Lillehei

Kaye Lillehei knew she was making a good investment in 2000 when she committed $13 million to the University of Minnesota to create the Lillehei Heart Institute. So when the longtime University advocate and volunteer died in November at age 91, her family felt it was only right to make a gift to the University in her honor.

Rita Perlingeiro, Ph.D. (Photo: Brady Willette)

The company made a multiyear gift commitment to help kick-start a University research project focused on finding a new therapy for limb-girdle muscular dystrophy type 2A.

Photo: Brady Willette

By midsummer, University of Minnesota scientists engaged in cancer and cardiovascular research will be settling into their new building across from TCF Bank Stadium. Conceived as the gateway to the University's burgeoning Biomedical Discovery District (BDD), the Cancer and Cardiovascular Research Building will not only house researchers, it will also welcome passersby inside to see firsthand the impact of the research being done throughout the BDD.

Joseph Metzger, Ph.D., and his lab team are giving dysfunctional hearts new instructions. (Photo: Brady Willette)

A University team has created a novel 'calcium sponge' to help erase one of the country's leading causes of heart failure.

A fibrin patch made in the lab of Jianyi Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., may help improve the effectiveness of stem cell therapies for the heart. (Photo: Jim Bovin)

"Everyone has some kind of tie to a person with heart disease," says Brian Engdahl, Ph.D., whose own father died of heart failure in 2005 at age 81. Through giving, Engdahl and his family are intent on improving the sobering statistics on heart disease today.

Joseph Metzger, Ph.D., leads a tour group through the Cancer and Cardiovascular Research Building.

University of Minnesota researchers have developed a "calcium sponge" that could one day be used to combat diastolic heart failure, a common killer of men and women nationwide.

Patti Taylor (Photo: Richard Anderson)

A University of Minnesota surgeon and two interventional cardiologists put their heads together to find a better treatment option for grandmother Patti Taylor, who has faced a host of medical problems throughout her life and wasn't a good candidate for open-heart surgery.


Thanks to recent legislation, you can again benefit from a popular tax-advantaged giving option.

Marie Guion Johnson, Ph.D., founder of AUM Cardiovascular, also works as an adjunct assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the University. (Photo: Scott Streble)

It’s taken personal tragedy, years of research, and a mysterious late-night epiphany for Marie Guion Johnson, Ph.D., to develop a promising new medical device that can detect coronary-artery blockage. Her invention, called the CADence™, is a noninvasive handheld tool that she hopes eventually will be used as a functional test for people at high risk of developing heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.

Paul Iaizzo, Ph.D., has directed cutting-edge research in the Visible Heart Laboratory since 1997, when it was created in collaboration with Medtronic, Inc. (Photo: Brady Willette)

You could call it a long-term, heartfelt commitment. In addition to its large, ongoing research contract, Medtronic recently committed another $350,000 to the University of Minnesota’s Visible Heart® Laboratory—the only place in the world where human hearts (donated, not suitable for transplantation) are reanimated so scientists can see exactly how they work from the inside.


On September 2, 1952, a sickly Jacqueline Johnson came to the University of Minnesota Hospitals for help. Jacqueline, the 5-year-old daughter of traveling carnival workers, had an atrial septal defect that needed repair—a repair that had never been done before. But pioneering University surgeon F. John Lewis, M.D., Ph.D., took the bold move of attempting the fix.

Demetris Yannopoulos, M.D., is part of an awareness effort focused on teaching more people how to respond when someone suffers sudden cardiac arrest. (Photo: Richard Anderson)

Though he's still early in his medical career, Demetris Yannopoulos, M.D., isn't waiting to make his mark on the field of cardiology. He is considered an authority in cardiorespiratory interactions and hypothermia during CPR, and his work in has already helped to improve CPR practices—thereby saving lives of people who need it.


Your annual gifts supporting research at the University of Minnesota have a real impact on treatments for patients living with disease.

Did you know that you can leave a legacy that will make a difference after your lifetime?

Karen Miller, M.S.W., M.P.A., and Alan Hirsch, M.D., kicked off a statewide effort to prevent heart attacks and strokes in Hibbing earlier this year. (Photo: Jim Bovin)

Experts at the University of Minnesota's Lillehei Heart Institute and the School of Public Health have developed a program to spread the word about steps Minnesotans can take to prevent a first heart attack or stroke. To start, the program will highlight the benefits of taking low-dose aspirin daily. Called "Partners in Prevention," the pilot program rolled out in Hibbing earlier this year. "Why should any Minnesotan, or American, suffer a preventable heart attack or stroke?" asks Alan T. Hirsch, M.D., director of this new initiative and the University's vascular medicine program. "This campaign is all about prevention."

The surgeons who performed Jay Pearson's open-heart surgery in 1952 went on to establish the University as a world leader in the field. (Photo: Jim Bovin)

In 1952, Eisenhower became president, Hasbro introduced Mr. Potato Head, gas cost 20 cents a gallon, and, at the University of Minnesota, doctors performed the world's first successful open-heart surgery. Jay Pearson was just 4 years old when he was admitted to the University's Variety Club Children's Heart Hospital on March 28, 1952, for an early heart surgery that preceded the history-making procedure by mere months.

Robin Maturi and her baby, Avery, greet Kenneth Liao, M.D., Ph.D., the heart surgeon who helped to save both of their lives, at the Red Hot Soirée. (Photo: Sandhill Photography)

Music superstar Barry Manilow thrilled the nearly 800 guests of this year's Red Hot Soirée, a gala benefit for the Lillehei Heart Institute at the University of Minnesota. The event, held April 14 at the Depot in Minneapolis, raised almost $690,000 for heart health research and education at the University.


If you would like to support groundbreaking research at the University of Minnesota and also receive steady income for life, a charitable gift annuity may be right for you. Through a simple contract, you agree to make a donation of cash, stocks, or other assets to the Minnesota Medical Foundation. In return, we agree to pay you a fixed amount each year for the rest of your life.

Peter Eckman, M.D.

Meet Peter Eckman, M.D., part of the new generation of cardiovascular physician-scientists continuing to further the University of Minnesota's decades-long leadership in heart research and care.


Traditional heart imaging methods may not always provide enough information for physicians to understand the cause of a patient’s symptoms or plan the best treatment. The new frontier in advanced imaging includes cardiac MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), CT (computed tomography), and PET (positron emission tomography), which open up a whole new level of information for every area of cardiovascular medicine.

Image: Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (2010)

Traditional imaging techniques work well most of the time. But sometimes the next level of imaging is needed to solve a puzzle, as in the case of a 42-year-old man who was having breathing problems and passing out repeatedly.

Demetris Yannopoulos, M.D., is part of an awareness effort focused on teaching more people how to respond when someone suffers sudden cardiac arrest. (Photo: Richard Anderson)

Demetris Yannopoulos, M.D., and a group of collaborators aim to improve survival rates after sudden cardiac arrest—when the heart unexpectedly stops beating—by at least 50 percent in five years through an innovative implementation and awareness effort called the HeartRescue Project. The goal? For every American who suffers sudden cardiac arrest to receive evidence-based, state-of-the-art care at the scene, en route to the hospital, and at the hospital.


For one special group of students, summer isn’t about waiting tables, babysitting, or hanging out at the mall. Instead, they’ll be working side by side with researchers from the Lillehei Heart Institute, learning about everything from stem cell therapies to career paths in cardiovascular medicine through the Summer Research Scholars Program.


University of Minnesota President Eric W. Kaler, Ph.D., gave this address at the Minnesota Medical Foundation’s Discovery Showcase on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.


When 66-year-old Patty Bilkey experienced sudden fatigue on a Monday in late June last year, she attributed it to the only reasonable explanation she could think of — overdoing herself during a “girls’ weekend” away.

But when her skin became clammy and she began experiencing flu-like symptoms with a slight pain in her left arm, she became more concerned.

“I remember I was sitting at the computer that morning, looking up ‘how to get more energy’ when it dawned on me that I should instead be doing a search on signs of a heart attack,” Bilkey says.


When the University of Minnesota's new, state-of-the-art cancer and cardiovascular research building is complete in 2013, it will bring top researchers together across disciplines to discover the next generation of cancer and heart therapies.

Martin and Moller_27 cropped.jpg

Minnesotans are less likely than the average American to die of heart disease. The reason? Likely because, compared with national averages, Minnesotans smoke less, and fewer of us have high blood pressure.


University of Minnesota researchers have developed a new method for creating induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), which can differentiate into many different types of the cells in the body and are used in medical research focused on diabetes, cancer, and many other diseases. This new process will dramatically speed up the creation of iPS cells and improve their quality, which could accelerate the treatment of many otherwise incurable diseases.


The first-ever Red Hot Soirée, held April 30 at the Depot in Minneapolis, raised approximately $400,000 for the Lillehei Heart Institute at the University of Minnesota.


Michael Johnson would have been shocked to learn last summer that his heart would fail by fall. Then came September 6, 2010, when he suffered a massive heart attack. While recovering at Fairview Southdale Hospital and facing a future limited by significant heart failure, Johnson got another surprise: University of Minnesota researchers asked him to participate in an innovative cell therapy study that might improve his prognosis. He agreed, and 10 days after his heart attack, doctors injected 150 million of Johnson's own stem cells from his bone marrow into his heart.


Sally and John Turrittin's son, Jeff, was born 29 years ago with a heart defect called aortic valve stenosis. So when Jeff was 12 or 13 years old and Sally Turrittin found a magazine article about researchers who were developing a way to grow a heart valve in the lab, it piqued her interest.


Hospitalizations and costs associated with peripheral artery disease (PAD) increase substantially as the condition progresses, according to a study by University of Minnesota researchers.

Jaclyn Doffin holding Sophia and Tony Doffin holding Grace and Tyler. (Submitted photo)

When Jaclyn and Tony Doffin found out that they were having triplets, they got busy planning for their new life with three infants. One of the triplets was diagnosed with a heart condition prior to birth, but the family never anticipated the devastating complications that their baby would have as a result. When the triplets, Tyler, Sophia, and Grace, were born on September 8, 2008, doctors quickly determined that Grace had a more severe case of hypoplastic right heart syndrome than originally thought. “She was born with three [heart] chambers,” explains Tony. “She was missing the one that pumped [blood] to the lungs.”

Jay Cohn, M.D.

If people took medications known to reduce their risk of a heart attack, nearly 90 percent of first-time heart attacks could be prevented, according to a University of Minnesota study. The study builds a strong case for increased screening efforts designed to detect heart disease before it becomes symptomatic, especially for people with a history of heart disease in their family.

Red Hot Soiree will be held April 30 at the Depot in Minneapolis.

Celebrate a history of innovation and future discoveries at the first-ever Red Hot Soirée, a benefit for the Lillehei Heart Institute. Cardiovascular disease touches each of us. As the number one killer in the United States across all gender, ages, and races, heart disease affects 1 out of every 3 people. However, in the fight against this disease we are faced with many challenges. Even though 2,400 Americans die of cardiovascular disease every day, funding for vital research and patient services is not keeping up with demand.


People with type 2 diabetes, whose bodies are unable to regulate glucose levels, are significantly more likely to get heart disease than people who don't have diabetes. So Jennifer Hall, Ph.D., director of the program in translational cardiovascular genomics at the University of Minnesota, hopes that her research focused on identifying what predisposes a person to type 2 diabetes also may shed light on what factors lead to heart disease.

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