Our History

In 1995, Dr. Carlos Duran had just finished seven years as chair of the Cardiovascular Department at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He had become friends with fellow cardiac surgeon Jim Oury, who had moved to Missoula and had interests similar to Duran’s in the use of natural tissues in heart valve surgery. Duran traveled to New York City for the annual meetings of the American Association of Thoracic Surgeons, and expected to see Oury there. But when Oury invited him to come up to a hospitality room at the convention, he didn’t expect to see the president of The University of Montana, the president of St. Patrick Hospital and Health Sciences Center, and one of Missoula’s most respected cardiologists.

“Lo and behold, I opened the door, and there was George Dennison, Larry White, Stan Wilson, and Jim, saying, ‘Would you come here?’” Duran remembers today. “They had me against the wall.”

What they wanted to build was what Duran, in retrospect, had been working toward his whole career: a place where the patient’s bedside met the scientist’s bench—an institute that brought together cardiac surgeons and cardiologists, who take care of patients, with the scientists on the front edge of cardiac research.

They had the ingredients for a recipe that Duran had known for years would make the superlative situation. First, a smaller but committed hospital where everybody knew everybody else. Second, no medical school, so no medical school politics. Third, a vibrant city small enough to be livable and big enough to bring in and accommodate heart specialists from around the world for workshops and seminars. And, the crucial piece, a university with a commitment to science and collaboration.

President Dennison smiles today at their method for recruiting Duran. He, White, Oury, and Dave Forbes, dean of UM’s College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences, had brainstormed considerably before making the approach.

“We talked about the possibility of an institute,” Dennison recalls. “In order to make it go, it was clear we had to have someone with real stature in the cardiovascular sciences.

“He was going to be present at the thoracic surgeons’ meetings, so we thought we’d gang up on him.”

That night, they talked and talked, he remembers. They ate dinner at Sardi’s and talked some more.

“They were very keen on it, both George and Larry,” Duran says today. “So it was, ‘Goodbye, Saudi.’ I was lucky to be in the right time and place.”

–Ginny Merriam
From “The Cutting Edge: World-Class Heart Institute Celebrates 12 Years” in the Spring 2007 edition of The Montanan.

(Additional historical information and photographs can be found in the St. Patrick Hospital and Health Sciences Center Learning Center on Level 1 of the Broadway Building.)