Mario Lemieux Foundation, Highmark Health Establish Research Fund in the Division of Cardiac Electrophysiology at Allegheny Health Network

Commitment of $2 million aims to advance leading-edge care for patients with atrial fibrillation and other heart rhythm disorders

PITTSBURGH, Pa (September 16, 2019) – Representatives from the Mario Lemieux Foundation today joined Highmark Health and Allegheny Health Network (AHN) officials to announce a major investment in the health of patients with heart rhythm disorders. A $1 million gift from the Mario Lemieux Foundation, with matching funds from Highmark Health, will establish The Mario Lemieux Innovation and Research Fund in the Division of Cardiac Electrophysiology (EP) at AHN’s Cardiovascular Institute. 

The $2 million investment by the Foundation and Highmark Health will support medical research and the development of innovative therapies and technologies for heart rhythm disorders, a cause close to the heart of Mario Lemieux, Foundation chairman, NHL Hall of Famer and Pittsburgh Penguins owner.

“Our Foundation is committed to supporting important research and patient care, and we are pleased to give this gift that will help so many people in our community,” said Lemieux.

Lemieux was diagnosed with a heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation (Afib) in 2005 and guides his foundation by supporting important patient care and research in the region. The Foundation’s gift to AHN is its first to an adult cardiovascular program.

“Our mission is to create programs that improve the lives of western Pennsylvanians and to collaborate with organizations who share that commitment,” said Tom Grealish, president of the Mario Lemieux Foundation. “Allegheny Health Network’s Cardiovascular Institute is nationally recognized for its expertise in the treatment of heart and vascular disease, and we are excited to help further enhance its capabilities in the specialized care of heart rhythm disorders.”

In the United States, Afib is the most common heart rhythm disorder affecting more than six million people. The condition occurs when the two upper chambers of the heart quiver out of sync with the lower chambers causing less blood to be circulated throughout the body, elevating a patient’s risk of heart failure and stroke.

The funding from the Foundation and Highmark Health will help further establish AHN’s EP program as a center for innovative research into the cause and treatment of heart rhythm disorders with a particular focus on minimally invasive therapies for Afib. The funds will also support the use of advanced data systems to develop predictive algorithms that promote more efficient and effective care pathways for patients with cardiac arrhythmias.

“At Highmark Health, we take great pride in our legacy of service to the western Pennsylvania community and one of the key elements of our success through the years has been the many opportunities we have had to work with outstanding organizations like the Mario Lemieux Foundation to make our communities better, healthier places to live,” said David Holmberg, president and CEO of Highmark Health. “Together with the Foundation, we are extremely excited to establish the framework of a game changing program that will help mend and strengthen the hearts of our members and patients today, and well into the future.”

AHN’s flagship Allegheny General Hospital (AGH) is a leading referral center in western Pennsylvania for advanced cardiovascular care and cardiovascular research, including clinical trials of new medications and technologies available only at the most specialized medical centers in the country. AHN’s community hospitals also have some of the best cardiovascular programs in the region with cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons who have led the way in transforming community-based cardiovascular care.

“We are immensely grateful to the Mario Lemieux Foundation and to Highmark Health for their generous support of our Cardiovascular Institute, their recognition of the quality and capabilities of our clinicians, their understanding of the importance of research and their confidence in our vision for transforming the treatment of heart rhythm disorders and other diseases of the heart and vascular system,” said Allie Quick, chief philanthropy officer at Allegheny Health Network.

AHN’s EP program has long been at the forefront of innovative techniques and technologies for treating heart rhythm disorders and similar heart conditions. Led by Amit Thosani, MD, director of the Cardiac Electrophysiology Division, the program was the first in the region to perform zero-fluoroscopy ablation to treat Afib and other heart rhythm abnormalities, greatly improving the safety of a common procedure that uses radiofrequency energy to stabilize an irregular heartbeat. In collaboration with the Network’s advanced heart failure and cardiac surgery teams, the electrophysiology program was also a first in the region to perform mapping and ablation of ventricular tachycardia at the time of open heart surgery.

“As the U.S. population continues to age, the number of those diagnosed with atrial fibrillation is expected to increase to 12 million by 2030 so it’s important that our multidisciplinary cardiac teams continue to deliver treatments that improve outcomes and bring world-class care to our patients, close to home,” said Srinivas Murali, MD, chairman of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Allegheny Health Network. “Thanks to the vision and generosity of organizations like the Mario Lemieux Foundation, our team can only further advance the development and implementation of more innovative diagnostic and minimally invasive solutions which benefit patients.”

Other faculty of the Division of Cardiac Electrophysiology who will play a role in work supported by fund  include William Belden, MD, Chris Bonnet, MD, John Chenarides, MD, Mati Friehling, MD, Emerson Liu, MD, and George Shaw, MD.

“Exceptional clinical care and pioneering expertise in the study and treatment of complex cardiovascular disease have been a hallmark of our Network, and its hospitals, for more than a century,” said George Magovern, MD, chair, AHN Cardiovascular Institute. “Patients with heart rhythm disorders in particular can be assured that the scope of resources available to them at Allegheny Health Network is second to none.”

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About the Allegheny Health Network:
Allegheny Health Network (AHN.org), a Highmark Health company, is an integrated healthcare delivery system serving the greater Western Pennsylvania region.  The Network is composed of eight hospitals, including Allegheny General Hospital, its flagship academic medical center in Pittsburgh, Allegheny Valley Hospital in Natrona Heights, Canonsburg Hospital in Canonsburg, Forbes Hospital in Monroeville, Jefferson Hospital in Jefferson Hills, Saint Vincent Hospital in Erie, West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh and Westfield Memorial Hospital in Westfield, NY.  The Network provides patients with access to a complete spectrum of advanced medical services, including nationally recognized programs for primary and emergency care, cardiovascular disease, cancer care, orthopedic surgery, neurology and neurosurgery, women’s health, diabetes and more.  It also is home to a comprehensive research institute; Health + Wellness Pavilions; an employed physician organization, home and community based health services and a group purchasing organization. The Network employs approximately 21,000 people, has more than 2,400 physicians on its medical staff and serves as a clinical campus for Drexel University College of Medicine, Temple University School of Medicine, and the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine.

About the Mario Lemieux Foundation
The Mario Lemieux Foundation is a 501 (c) 3 organization that raises funds for cancer research and patient care, as well as Austin’s Playrooms, an initiative that creates playrooms for children and families in medical facilities. www.mariolemieux.org.