From left: David Schneider, MD, Director of Cardiology at the UVM Medical Center; Mary Evslin; Tom Evslin; Peter Spector, MD, Director of Cardiac Electrophysiology at the UVM Medical Center.

The Cardiovascular Angel Club is a new opportunity enabling philanthropists to fund potential breakthroughs in cardiology at the UVM Medical Center directly and personally. The UVM Medical Center, along with the University of Vermont (UVM) College of Medicine, already has one of the best cardiology research and treatment centers in the country. Their work advances heart treatments everywhere in the world.

The idea for the new club came from a discussion my husband Tom and I had with Dr. David Schneider, director of Cardiology at the UVM Medical Center shortly after Tom received a stent.  Dr. Schneider shared with us the secrets behind the success of the UVM Medical School’s cutting edge cardio research program. They are as follows:

  1. Every researcher is also a practitioner.
  2. The school has broken down silos enabling cardiologists to work with mathematicians, physicists, computer programmers, etc.
  3. The hospital has been asking cardiology patients over the years if they can take a tiny sample of their heart tissue for research purposes. Many, many have agreed. As a result, the researchers have a large bank of tissue they can use for their research. This is not available in most research centers.
  4. The superstars in the department attract other brilliant researchers who want to work and learn from them.

The school’s researchers choose Vermont because of our lifestyle and because of Dr. Schneider’s secrets. In the face of reduced federal funding for early stage research, David must retain and keep recruiting top-notch talent. Most of the researchers who come here could make more money somewhere else and are often approached by head hunters. To keep them, Vermont must fund their life work.

Since Tom and I don’t know much about how the world of research works, we suggested some ideas from the high tech industry with which we are familiar.

In our industry, a young person with a great idea and no money or reputation starts out borrowing from family and friends and using a few credit cards and then, if the idea is still holding up, often approaches an Angel group of investors. An Angel group is made up of people who have some money to invest, a fascination with new cool stuff and a high tolerance for risk. We all know that most small businesses don’t make it past three years. A new business person with a brand-new idea and often no experience in running a company makes success even more difficult. BUT, when it works it can be a game-changer and make a lot of money.

Dr. Schneider liked applying the Angel idea to medical research. The Cardiology Angel Club began to take shape. We decided to try a meeting every six months at the hospital with a light dinner. David then surveyed his team of researchers to see if any of them would like to present to a group of sophisticated non-medical philanthropists in the hope of maybe someday receiving funding. From those who responded and allowed David to coach them on writing a one page paper and perfecting a 15 minute talk, he choose three.

Tom and I volunteered to be the beta testers and had a fascinating evening learning a lot about cutting-edge projects that are in varying stages of development. One project particularly intrigued us. It was Dr. Spector’s research on a new way to do ablations to stop the symptoms of atrial fibrillation (AF). Tom’s brother suffers from AF (often called “a-fib”), and this project may result in eliminating the condition in some of the most difficult patients who do not respond to other treatments. Moreover, for various reasons, this is a project NOT likely to get traditional government or funding from a pharmaceutical company. Finally, the result will not be just grounds for further study but, if all goes well (which it may not,) a new procedure  which doctors around the world can begin applying directly. We went home that night and, after a lot of talking, decided to fund it.

Being able to choose the project that excited us most, being able to fund it directly, and being able to work with the researcher to define benchmarks for the project that would release our funding was so exciting. How cool to be a part of something that could change so many people’s lives – or at worst provide the research community with paths not to follow, that would enable a faster cure developed somewhere else.

We invite you to join us at the next meeting of the Cardiology Angel Club the evening of September 12th. Please contact Natalie Fleischman, Vice President of Development at  802-847-5566 for specifics on time and place. Don’t worry. No obligation or heavy “sell.” Just a promise of a fascinating evening.

Mary Evslin is a retired marketing and public relations executive and cardio patient at the UVM Medical Center.  She and her husband Tom established the Cardiovascular Angel Club to encourage private investment in cardiology research at the UVM Medical Center and the Larner College of Medicine at UVM.

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