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A heartfelt 'Happy Birthday'

Grateful for the pediatric heart surgery that has allowed their son Bob Calmenson to lead a normal life, Ben and Vivian Calmenson created a fund for pediatric cardiology research at the University of Minnesota 10 years ago, when Bob turned 50. This year t

A grateful family celebrates with a gift

St. Paul native and University of Minnesota graduate Bob Calmenson turned 60 on June 2. That’s a major milestone for anyone, but especially for Bob, who was born with a life-threatening congenital heart defect—and not expected to make it to his 20s.

After two surgeries at the University’s former Variety Club Heart Hospital when he was an adolescent, Bob has been able to live a full life, one that includes family, career, and weekends sailing off the coast of San Diego, his home since the mid-’80s. “I’ve been fortunate to be on this side of the grass for this long,” he says wryly.

Bob’s parents, Ben and Vivian Calmenson, credit the first surgery with extending Bob’s life. They demonstrated their gratitude—and honored Bob’s 50th birthday—in 1998 by establishing the Robert L. Calmenson Pediatric Cardiology Research Fund at the University. Family and friends continue to contribute to the fund, which supports research aimed at preventing and improving the treatment of congenital heart defects. “We don’t want to see any other children go through what Bob did,” Vivian says.

Calmenson family and friends gathered in Minnesota on Memorial Day weekend to celebrate Bob’s 60th birthday—and Ben’s 90th—on May 25. Naturally, the get-together included some lively talk about Gopher football and basketball, which Bob still follows avidly. He has fond memories of watching the Gopher football team practice from the top of the Oak Street parking ramp during one of his many stays at the old Variety Club Hospital.

Bob is delighted with the plans for a new facility for the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital, Fairview. Scheduled to open in 2011, the new building will feature more home-like environments and allow greater family interaction than in his day.

“I didn’t want to be in the hospital when I was a kid; no child does,” Bob says. “But it’s exciting to know the new facility will make the experience as comforting and positive as possible.”

Recently, Bob and his father established the Calmenson Family Scholarship through the San Diego chapter of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association. The first scholarship will be awarded for the 2009 academic year. Recipients can major in any subject they wish, but who knows? Maybe one will make the next big breakthrough in pediatric cardiology.

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