Dr. Thomas Weigel
Dr. Thomas J. Weigel, MD, SC, was the very first member of The Children’s Heart Foundation’s Medical Advisory Council (MAC) in 1996! As the founder of our MAC, and the first chairman, he helped shape the future of the nationally renowned Council, as well as the organization and its mission as a whole. In 2014, the Foundation honored Dr. Weigel with its first “Humanitarian Award” for his vision and service to the CHD community. The Children’s Heart Foundation would not be the leading CHD research organization that it is today without the dedication of Dr. Weigel.
We asked him what the last 25 years of CHF research funding has meant to him, his patients, and the medical community at large. We are honored to present these reflections from Dr. Weigel:
“Wow, the last 25 years have flown by in the blink of an eye! The Children’s Heart Foundation was founded by Betsy and Steve Peterson and all the credit goes to them and their vision to make a better future for children with congenital heart disease. I remember the first meeting in 1994 in Betsy’s dining room like it was yesterday. I remember calling all the original Medical Advisory Board members to see if they would be interested in serving on the Medical Advisory Board and review the original research proposals. All of them said a resounding, “Yes!”. That in and of itself, should tell you what they thought of the need for such a Foundation. I would like to thank all the original Medical Advisory Board members including Dr. Roger Cole, Dr. Jim Lock, Dr. Aldo Castaneda, Dr. Bill Norwood, Dr. Thomas Graham, Dr. Roberta Williams, Dr. Marla Mendelson, Dr. Constantine Mavroudis, Dr. Rene Arcilla, Dr. Bob Anderson, and subsequent Medical Advisory Board chairs, Dr. David Sahn and Dr. Carl Backer for their counsel, determination, and hard work in reviewing all the proposals sent to them over the years (thousands of pages!).
The Children’s Heart Foundation’s impact on the field has been tremendous! Funding started in 1997 with three original grant proposals by Drs. Matherne, Chai, and Mavroudis totaling $95,000. Since then, The Children’s Heart Foundation has provided millions of dollars of research funding for investigators desperately in need of project seed money and project completion. Federal and corporate funding was just not there to advance the field at the time. The CHF funding has elevated the careers of the researchers funded, but more importantly, children’s lives have improved by direct and indirect measures by the CHF funded research. It is a testament to the Medical Advisory Council members and the entire Children’s Heart Foundation, that many of the principal investigators have subsequently secured further federal or corporate funding to expand their studies’ impact. With CHF funding, new procedures have been established, new treatment plans have been developed, and new research courses have been created.
The Peterson’s vision of expansion, government advocacy, and education has also added tremendously to the impact of The Children’s Heart Foundation. Federal funding and corporate funding for congenital heart disease patients have improved slightly over the time. The educational It’s My Heart book has been used by thousands of families impacted by congenital heart disease. The growth in the people involved in The Children’s Heart Foundation was, and is, exciting to see. Staff and volunteers have been fantastic to work with over the years.
I try not to imagine what would have happened if The Children’s Heart Foundation was never established. I fear that a lot of my patients would not have had a chance to lead a long and productive life. When considering the parents and families involvement with the patients with congenital heart disease, the impact has been exponential! To put it simply, the Children’s Heart Foundation has changed lives!” -- Thomas Weigel, MD