Sarver Heart Research Center More Than a Name

By Stefan Swiat,
Posted: Oct. 12, 2011

The Sarver Heart Center is known as one of the top heart research centers in the United States. What few people know is the story behind how that building was given its namesake.

The center, which was first known as the University Heart Center when it was built at the University of Arizona in 1986, is dedicated to the prevention and treatment of heart disease.

Also referred to as cardiovascular disease, which generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain or stroke, heart disease is currently the No. 1 cause of death in the United States.

However, after 12 years of operation, the center changed its name to the Sarver Heart Center in recognition of the generous support from the Sarver family in 1998. Although buildings are often renamed after benevolent donors, the Sarvers’ interest in the center’s development went much further than financial.

While known in the business world as the Chairman and CEO of Western Alliance Bancorporation, and to the sports world as the Suns Managing Partner, Robert Sarver’s dedication towards fighting heart disease goes back much further than his association with those two organizations. When Sarver was 18, his father, Jack, passed away from heart disease.

About 10 years prior to his father’s death, Robert remembered his father traveling to Houston, Texas to receive what was considered cutting-edge treatment at the time. Jack was there to visit Denton Cooley, one of the first doctors to perform coronary bypass surgery.

The effect of technological growth prolonging his father’s life obviously made an impression on Robert, who recalled his father’s constant battle with his health.

“My dad had his first heart attack at 40 years old and had heart bypass surgery at 48,” Sarver said. “He died at 58 of heart disease, so this is something my wife and I wanted to get involved with and that’s why we made a donation to the University of Arizona in 1998.”

The Sarver Heart Center consists of over 175 physicians and scientists working on site with the mission of educating, researching and treating heart disease. One of the accomplishments that the center is most recognized for was developing a new way that CPR is performed.

Chest-compression-only CPR was first advocated by the center in 1993 and was recently adopted by the American Heart Association as the preferred way to perform CPR.

“We revolutionized how that’s done and it’s done by continuous chest compression,” Sarver said. "It has a significantly higher save rate than what was traditionally done and based on our estimations of that method of being adopted, it’s now used about 90 percent of the time in United States. It could save 58,000 lives per year if it’s used in place of the old method.”

According to Sarver, the center has also been a leader in heart transplant medicine for some time. He credits a strong molecular cardiology research group that’s constantly coming up with new methods for the prevention and treatment of heart disease.

“The last thing that I’m particularly proud of is that we have a specialty field with a chairperson and researchers for heart disease in women,” Sarver said. “Most people don’t know that heart disease is the No. 1 killer in women, but they also usually don't know that the symptoms and treatment of heart disease in women are different than in men. So we have a big educational outreach program for women in heart disease.”

Since heart disease is hereditary, Sarver has always paid special attention to his health. He claims to have always monitored his cholesterol and blood pressure levels, always engaged in exercise and has refrained from smoking.

Although Sarver donates to several charities, his contributions to the heart research center ranks first among all of them, from both a financial and sentimental level.

“This is the one that I’m the closest to and most involved in,” Sarver said. “And it has a special meaning with my dad’s name on top of the building.”

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