The late 1940s: With World War II over, confidence levels soared, and a new era in American industrialism and demographics began. It was during this time that two friends established a modest medical research facility in an abandoned polio barrack adjacent to Charlotte Memorial Hospital (now Carolinas Medical Center).
Dannie K. Heineman, a Charlotte-born industrialist, and Paul W. Sanger, a young surgeon who was trained in thoracic surgery while serving with distinction in the army in World War II, had the modest goal of conducting basic thoracic and vascular research. Neither of them realized that, in just a few short years, Sanger would develop the world’s first synthetic arterial graft, a major medical success of their time.
With intellect, dedication and foresight, Sanger set the pace for a long series of achievements that propelled Heineman Laboratory to a position of leadership in cardiovascular research. In 1956, Sanger recruited Francis Robicsek, the former Chief of Cardiac Surgery at the University of Budapest, Hungary. Robicsek had left his native country after the ill-fated revolution against the Soviets. Sanger and Robicsek’s clinical partnership, combined with the expanding research facility of the Heineman Foundation and recruitment of top surgical and cardiology specialists, defined the cutting edge of cardiovascular medicine and research in the Carolinas.
After Sanger’s death in 1968, Robicsek took the helm of both Heineman Medical Research Laboratory and the partnership which he then renamed the “Sanger Clinic” (since renamed Sanger Heart and Vascular Institute “SHVI”). Research conducted at Heineman was procedurally implemented at SHVI into clinical practice. The seamless cooperation between the two organizations led to one procedural “first” after another, and SHVI became one of the leading cardiac groups in the Southeast.
After Daniel’s death, his son, James H. Heineman, carried the Heineman’s tradition of advancing science and medicine. Heineman Medical Research, Inc. became a driving force in improving healthcare in underdeveloped countries in Central America and Eastern Europe. In the 1970’s, many children from Guatemala City were flown to Charlotte for life-saving surgery, and Heineman’s legacy of world outreach was born.
In the early 1980’s, Heineman constructed the first shipping container that could transport donor hearts over long distances and several years later, built the first laser laboratory in the Charlotte region. Laser surgery went on to become an accepted procedure for non-invasive cardiac treatment.
In the 1990s, Thomas Masters, Director of Research, put Heineman Laboratory in the international limelight again when he discovered a method to extend the “life” of a donor heart from four to 18 hours.
Dr. Robicsek and his team led Heineman Medical Research beyond its past and into the scientific advancements of tomorrow. They were internationally recognized as one of the world’s finest cardiac teams, which authored more than 600 scientific articles. Dr. Robicsek received honorary memberships and doctorates from leading scientific institutions all over the world.
Click here to read the list of “Firsts” accomplished by Heineman from 1946-2000.
In 2010, Heineman Medical Research changed its name to Heineman Foundation of Charlotte and closed the research portion of its program to focus more intensively on international outreach. The Heineman Foundation partnered with Atrium Health to establish the International Medical Outreach (IMO) Program. With support from foundations, firms and individuals, the IMO Program actively provides equipment and supplies donations to clinics and hospitals worldwide.
In addition to sending material assistance, the IMO Program often sends volunteer physicians, technicians, nurses and hospital administrators to counterpart institutions to provide clinical and technical education and training. These contributions improve and, in many instances, establish programs geared toward public health and individual patient care. Due to the Program’s relationship with Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute, many of these programs focus on cardiac care.
In 2016, Heineman Medical Research changed its name to Heineman Medical Outreach, Inc.
Since its birth in the late 1940’s, the Heineman Medical Outreach has had a goal of improving healthcare and the quality of life for people around the world. Through the work of the IMO Program, this goal continues to be met today.