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A Heart for Giving to support innovation

By Jennifer Johnston
August 2013

In matters of giving, venture capitalist Robby van Roijen recommends following your heart, the same course he took in establishing Vanderbilt’s first endowed fund in cardiac innovation.

“The thing I like about giving to Vanderbilt is that the money is actually going to producing something that will eventually make the world a healthier place,” said van Roijen, founder and principal of Orlando-based TOX Financial.

His heart led him to Vanderbilt initially when his Orlando physician detected a faulty mitral valve. As the condition worsened, Robert Boswell, M.D., who trained at Vanderbilt, sent van Roijen for further testing to Benjamin F. Byrd III, M.D., a Vanderbilt professor of Medicine who specializes in echocardiography and adult congenital heart disease.
Byrd soon determined that van Roijen needed surgery to repair the valve. The repair was performed more than five years ago by Michael R. Petracek, M.D., interim chair of Vanderbilt’s Department of Cardiac Surgery.

Since the surgery, van Roijen, 74, a former Marine, swims a quarter of a mile every day, getting in longer swims on the weekends.

Before setting up the Robert van Roijen Discovery Science Fund, his previous philanthropy provided support for Michael Bestawros, M.D., to develop a prototype device to detect arrhythmias and atrial fibrillation and for Susan Eagle, M.D., associate professor of Clinical Anesthesiology, to develop a software application to display echocardiogram data on a smartphone or tablet.

While this is an exciting time for biomedical research, and cardiology research in particular, much more work is needed to leverage new technologies and translate new insights into patient care, said Thomas Wang, M.D., director of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine.

“The generous support from Mr. van Roijen comes at an extremely important time,” according to Wang. “The federal budget crunch and other economic uncertainties have led to significant reductions in the amount of funding available for basic, clinical and translational research. This is coming at a time when genomic and molecular technologies are opening new fields of investigation and presenting critical opportunities to advance our understanding of cardiovascular disease.”

A key leader on Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Heart Advisory Council, van Roijen said he is “extremely intrigued” by innovations in medical research at Vanderbilt, especially with DNA.

“I like new inventions and venture capital,” he said. “Giving money to Vanderbilt for new techniques and new procedures really appeals to me.”

You might say it comes from the heart.

Endowed Chairs


Thirteen Vanderbilt University School of Medicine faculty members named to endowed chairs were honored for outstanding academic achievements in the Spring during celebrations at the Student Life Center.

  • William O. Cooper, M.D., Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor in Pediatrics

  • Sergio Fazio, M.D., Ph.D., Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor in Medicine

  • Haydar A. Frangoul, M.D., Carolyn Perot Rathjen Professor

  • Kevin B. Johnson, M.D., Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor in Biomedical Informatics

  • MacRae F. Linton, M.D., Dr. Stephen Schillig, Jr. and Mary Schillig Professor in Medicine

  • Steven A. Webber, M.B.Ch.B., James C. Overall Professor in Pediatrics

  • Ariel Y. Deutch, Ph.D., James G. Blakemore Professor in Psychiatry

  • Fred S. Lamb, M.D., Ph.D., Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor in Pediatrics

  • Kevin G. Osteen, Ph.D., Pierre Soupart Professor in Obstetrics and Gynecology

  • Keith T. Wilson, M.D., Thomas F. Frist Sr. Professor in Medicine

  • Roy Zent, Ph.D., Thomas F. Frist Sr. Professor in Medicine

  • Carl W. Zimmerman, M.D., Frances and John C. Burch Professor in Obstetrics and Gynecology


In addition to honoring the chair holders, Richard McCarty, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, thanked the donors “past and present” who made the endowed chairs possible. “We celebrate today new investment, as well the growth in previous investments, legacies if you will,” he said. 

“Because of the incredible management of our endowment by a number of vice chancellors for investments, we now have the pleasure of taking one chair and splitting it into two,” McCarty said. “That has been something that has allowed for this increase in honors for our most distinguished faculty.”

In August 2010, Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos announced a major university initiative to recruit and retain outstanding scholars and teachers.
As part of the initiative, he said the University would increase by 60 the number of endowed chair holders within two years.



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