Couple Establish Endowed Chair for Cardiology Research
Feb 14, 2024
Sutter Health
Jim and Carol White stand in a vineyard

By Kathy Engle and Ashley Boarman, Vitals contributors

Napa residents Jim and Carol White have pledged $5 million to advance cardiology care at Sutter Health. While the couple are dedicated to improving healthcare overall, according to Jim, the gift also carries a deeply personal meaning. At age 74, he battled atrial fibrillation, or A-fib, a heart condition affecting millions of Americans each year. White says his Sutter care team saved his life and has him back on the go.

White, who is now 77, remains active, walking more than seven miles a day and routinely holding phone meetings during his walks. This spirited scene; however, is a far cry from a walk he took several years ago where he became short of breath. He says his heart was racing beyond 200 beats per minute. For context, the average walking heart rate for a healthy adult ranges between 100-120 beats per minute.

Bam! All of the sudden I was diagnosed with A-fib,” details White. “You see the commercials with famous athletes who have this condition, and then it’s my turn.”

Understanding A-Fib

A-fib is a type of arrhythmia, or abnormal heartbeat, caused by extremely fast or irregular beats. Left untreated, it can increase the risk of stroke four- or fivefold. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that A-fib contributed to nearly 160,000 deaths in 2019.

Dr. Steven Hao, an electrophysiologist at Sutter’s California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, treated White’s A-fib with two ablations. The first procedure was carried out in April 2021, with the second coming just a few months later. Together, these procedures eliminated the double-time electrical signals causing White’s irregular heartbeats, enabling his heart to resume a normal rhythm.

“Sometimes the first ablation does not solve this problem and a second procedure is necessary,” says Dr. Hao. “I’ve told Jim that he’s like the Energizer bunny—he just keeps going and going. Even though he required two procedures, we corrected his condition and I’m confident we can keep his heart healthy.”

Fueling Cardiac Advances Through Philanthropic Giving

After his heart health scare, The Whites wanted to honor Jim’s care team by giving $5 million to fund a research endowment as part of the larger Heart Excellence and Responsive Treatment (HEART) initiative at Sutter Health.

The endowment will focus on translational sciences in cardiovascular disease, the number-one cause of death in the U.S. According to Sutter, the couple’s endowment is the first of its kind in the organization’s 100-year history.

“When we learned Sutter Health patients comprise 1% of all American citizens, we were floored,” says White. “Sutter has the scale and knowhow to impact the way heart disease is diagnosed and treated for generations to come, and we hope more people will recognize Sutter as the place to be treated for heart issues.”

The research endowment will allow the first endowed chair, Cardiac Electrophysiology Specialist Dr. Chris Woods, to work on translational research to help Sutter develop investigator-initiated and industry-supported clinical trials. It will also enable an expert team to pursue innovative treatments and therapies that will lead to long-term improvements in patient care.

“Jim and Carol’s generosity is critical to building a robust research program that will support our skilled clinicians in developing superior treatments and providing the best care for our patients,” says Dr. Hao.

As for Jim and Carol, they are positive they have started something important and hope others will choose to join them. “As we approach the final chapters of our lives,” says White, “we believe it is not how much we gather, but how much we scatter that marks the kind of life we’ve lived.”

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