Heart & Vascular Institute Is Dedicated

On Aug. 9, 2007, a single steel beam — painted white and signed by University employees — glided up to the pinnacle of Augusta’s newest addition: University Health Care System’s Heart & Vascular Institute. The topping-out ceremony marked a major milestone in a “new generation of cardiovascular care” unique within the CSRA.

The Heart & Vascular Institute promised not only the world-class clinical care synonymous with University but also innovative patient rooms that could transform from acute-care units to general recovery rooms, with family zones to make friends and relatives more comfortable. When quadruple bypass patient and retired Baptist preacher H.L. Deason became one of the first patients at the Institute in January, he “jokingly wondered if he could afford it . . . [and] broke down in tears.”

The dedication ceremony on Feb. 17, 2009, marked the culmination and the “crown jewel” of a massive $93.6 million expansion effort launched in 2003. At the event, then-University President and CEO J. Larry Read commended University’s fundraising efforts and praised longtime supporters like the Trotter, Dennis and Knox families, who helped raise $8.4 million for the expansion. “Now we have the capacity to care for more patients than ever before,” Read said, “and the foundation for future expansion.”

University’s pioneering history in cardiovascular care has included many “firsts”: performing Georgia’s first heart transplant, and offering the region’s first cardiac catheterization program, first minimally invasive mitral valve replacement surgery and first angioplasty.

The Institute oversaw another historic first in August 2009, when cardiologist Peter J. Bigham, M.D., implanted the CSRA’s first wireless pacemaker. The new device permitted remote monitoring of heart rhythms and fewer trips to the hospital for 83-year-old recipient Dorothy “Granny” Tharpe.

In 2011, University continued its pioneering history of preventative care, opening the Heart Attack & Stroke Prevention Center, which uses state-of-the-art ultrasound screenings as well as genetic and metabolic testing to identify at-risk patients and guide them toward lifestyle changes that promote wellness.

Tim Hunter, M.D. (left), speaks at the event celebrating the 100th TAVR procedure at University Hospital’s Heart & Vascular Institute.

Four years later, the Institute performed its 100th Transaortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) procedure, inviting all 99 previous patients to join the celebration. The 100th procedure was performed on physician Samuel J. Hunter, M.D., by his son, University cardiothoracic surgeon Timothy Hunter, M.D., and accompanying team. The minimally invasive procedure is a lifesaver for patients considered too frail for traditional open-heart surgery.

TAVR procedures were joined by another cardiology innovation on Aug. 8, 2016, when the Institute became the first in the CSRA to successfully implement the world’s first FDA-approved dissolving heart stent.

As always, however, University’s leadership in cardiovascular care is never just about being “first.” The Heart & Vascular Institute’s continuous improvement efforts were validated when its cardiac catheterization lab earned Accreditation for Cardiovascular Excellence (ACE), signifying “University Hospital’s ongoing commitment to providing the highest-quality care for our patients.” The rigorous review by the ACE reinforced University’s stature as the gold standard and beating heart of the CSRA’s health care community.

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