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"There's something very special here"

With generous support from heart-health advocate Irene Pollin, faculty and fellows in the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease are mounting an offensive against the No. 1 killer of Americans
Posted February 16, 2017
(l to r) Bill McEvoy, Seth Martin, Roger Blumenthal (l to r) Bill McEvoy, Seth Martin, Roger Blumenthal

After losing two children — one at just 13 months — to congenital heart defects, Irene Pollin made it her life's mission to promote prevention strategies for those lucky enough to be born with healthy hearts. That mission drove her in 2013 to make a $10 million gift to the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease. Since then, the Pollin Preventive Cardiology Fellowship has armed young researchers to conduct cutting-edge research, and the Kenneth J. Pollin Professorship in Cardiology has given Roger Blumenthal, MD, A&S '81, a platform to influence policy and practice well beyond Hopkins.

"In an era of rising health care costs and expensive procedures, it's important to do all we can to prevent heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure from happening, and that's the essence of preventive cardiology," says Blumenthal, the director of the Ciccarone Center.

Blumenthal and Pollin crossed paths more than a decade ago, when he volunteered to help provide heart-health screenings for women that were sponsored by Pollin's Sister to Sister Foundation. The Kenneth J. Pollin Professorship — named for Pollin's son who died just a year after birth — has given Blumenthal the ability to help develop policies and guidelines related to cardiovascular health locally and nationally. He's served as president of Maryland's American Heart Association chapter, lobbying the state legislature for laws that promote health and wellness, and worked with the national organization as co-chair of a subcommittee that is updating the 2013 prevention guidelines related to blood pressure, cholesterol management, lifestyle, and assessment of cardiovascular risk.

"When you're a physician, seeing patients takes up a lot of time," Blumenthal says. "This endowed professorship has allowed me to have an impact on prevention far broader than I could have had just by seeing individual patients."

Pollin's gift also allows Blumenthal to select promising cardiovascular fellows to attend the Bloomberg School of Public Health. These Pollin Preventive Cardiology Fellows can enroll tuition-free in Bloomberg's master of science in health science program, which provides advanced training in areas that aren't emphasized in medical school but which are critical for clinicians interested in academic cardiology and prevention research.

"If you don't have the understanding in epidemiology, biostatistics, and data analysis, it's very hard to adequately judge the quality of the evidence you're basing your practice on," says Bill McEvoy, MB BCh, MHS (SPH '15) one of the inaugural Pollin Fellows. "It's like physicians speak English and, say, biostatisticians speak French. Training in both areas enables you to speak both languages."

McEvoy and another of the first Pollin Fellows, Seth Martin, MD, MHS (SPH '15) recently joined the faculty of the Ciccarone Center — but the impact of the Pollin Fellows has spread beyond Baltimore. Parag Joshi, MD, MHS (SPH '15), the third of McEvoy and Martin's cohort, is now a preventive cardiologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Another fellow, Haitham Ahmed, MD, has joined the Heart and Vascular Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.

Blumenthal and the fellows keep Pollin up to speed on their latest activities and research. They've all met with Pollin in person at least twice a year, and they're as impressed with her passion for their field as they are grateful for her support. 

"Roger's mentorship and Irene's generosity have created a world-class environment for young preventive cardiologists to get the training and experience they need to make a real impact, to generate knowledge that will improve prevention throughout the world," McEvoy says. "There's something very special here."

Can a blood-based biomarker identify damaged heart muscle earlier — increasing the possibility for successful treatment? Learn more about Bill McEvoy’s research.

Can an app ensure heart attack patients — and their caregivers — are equipped to facilitate a smooth recovery? Learn more about Seth Martin’s work with Apple.

To learn more about how you can support preventive cardiology research at the Johns Hopkins Heart and Vascular Institute, please contact Shannon Wollman, director of development.