Helping Patients Every Day: EP Lab Digest Speaks with Larry King, Jr., President of The Larry King Cardiac Foundation

How did the partnership between New York Hospital Queens (NYHQ) and The Larry King Cardiac Foundation (LKCF) come about? We had had an existing relationship with Cornell, which is part of the New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System now. Through that partnership, they have a link to two facilities: one in Queens, and the other in Brooklyn. Early last year I met with the Professor and Chairman of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Weill Cornell Medical Center, Dr. Wayne Isom, who had actually operated on my father back in 1987, and he took me through the two facilities. We then extended our services to those facilities as part of our partnership with New York-Presbyterian and Cornell. Why is a partnership like this so important? Obviously it is important to us to be able to provide the services to these individuals who don't have anywhere else to go. I've been a part of the foundation (as President) for the past year and a half, and I've been looking for key expansions regionally throughout the country in order to partner with some more great facilities and help more people. New York is critical to us, and while we could also help people in Manhattan, we saw an incredible need in Queens as well as Brooklyn, and that is why we connected with those facilities. We just saw the numbers and said that we could make a great impact in New York at those two facilities in particular. What other hospitals are affiliated with The Larry King Cardiac Foundation? Our list of hospitals currently includes the George Washington University Medical Center and Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.; Saint Joseph's Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia; the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio; and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Children's National Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. How are patients selected for the LKCF program? The majority of patients come through the existing facilities. People hear about our program in their local area this is how we hear from a majority of the people. The other is that they'll come to us directly through our website they'll read about our services, see if they qualify, and apply. After that we will send their application to the closest facility that we have to that person. Is this program available for patients also needing electrophysiology services (such as pacemakers, defibrillators, and ablation)? Absolutely! As a matter of fact, I happened to be on-hand in Washington, D.C. for an operation in which a defibrillator was being placed in an individual. My father makes a phone call to every patient every person we help gets a phone call, either prior to their surgery, or if it is an emergency case, he'll call them afterwards. Therefore, I had the pleasure of being in Washington, D.C. and meeting the patient who was getting the defibrillator, and he was really excited. The patient had had a heart attack the week before and needed that product, and it was great to be able to get that for him. Because of the Larry King Cardiac Foundation, he will not have to pay and there is no charge, as we have some great companies providing us with those products. We help patients who need valve operations, defibrillators, pacemakers, and stents those are the majority of surgeries and procedures that we cover. Is there any patient's story that has affected you in particular? Honestly, you get personally attached to each one of these individuals. However, I'll just quickly tell you about two patients in particular that come to mind. One is an individual whose sister wrote us last year and said that her sister couldn't finish school, she was having difficulties. What she had was a leaky heart valve and she needed support, but they didn't have insurance. We were able to get her to Children's, who performed the surgery, and we were able to help that individual. She went on and finished college and later got a job in her major (she was actually involve in oil-rigging, which is amazing for her). She was at a recent LKCF event, and it was great to meet her and talk to her after my father had talked to her. After the event, and after she got her first job, she sent us a check for $500. Then just yesterday, exactly one year later, I opened the mail and there was a check from her for $1,000, and in the envelope was a note that said I hope this will save another life. That is the amazing power that this program does to people that we've helped, to come back and do something like that. That story really hits home for me. The other story is of a young boy, Matt, only 11 years old, who lost his father to a heart attack sudden cardiac arrest, actually at 43. Afterwards, the boy, who heard of our program and our slogan Save a Heart a Day, began making these red wristbands (similar to the Lance Armstrong wristbands) which read Be Smart, Save a Heart. He went out on his own and ended up selling close to 2,000 of the wristbands. The boy later mailed us a check for $1,800, and we were able to use that check to pay for the services of man (a father of three) who had two stents put in after he was about to have a heart attack. Therefore, in two weeks we are bringing the both of these families together to meet. This is the kind of story that when people give to our foundation, they can see that these lives and these things touch people. No money goes to research or equipment we use it all towards direct care for these individuals who need the help. There are many, many others patient stories, but those two individuals really affected me. It is amazing, you know, when I received that letter, I sent it to my father, and we were all choked up on the phone! Then my father called him and made him an honorary board member. Now I'm working with the boy as well, and his mother writes me all the time saying how this has been great therapy for him it has only been nine months for him since he's lost his father, but he is energized to try and help. It's really neat. How many patients have been helped so far, since the LKCF program's inception? Since the program's inception, there have been almost 150 patients; we are at about 147 patients as of this week. Also, the average surgery is not cheap. They range anywhere from $6,000 up to $40,000, depending on the type of surgery. However, because of the great work of our partner companies, we've got many of the companies that are in this business. We have an opportunity this year, and if we execute well on it, we have a chance to help 125 people just this year alone. We are very excited; that will be the most we've ever done, and we've got the potential to make it happen. How can hospitals join in on this program? Ultimately we make the decision about which hospitals join. It is not our strategic plan to be in every single facility in the United States that would be very difficult to manage, and it is not really our vision. I believe our vision is to be in the key spots across the United States. In addition, we are talking to some foundations that will help get people to travel at no expense to get them there. I think we can manage that. We have to fill some voids in the southwestern United States, and we are also potentially looking at hospitals in Florida, which is where my father's career started, so it would be kind of nice to have one there. My father's career has touched New York where he was born, Washington, D.C. really where his career took off with mutual broadcasting and CNN, and now he lives out in Los Angeles, but his career really started in Miami, and so I am looking at some locations in south Florida. From an expansion standpoint, we will probably be looking at Florida as well as possibly two other spots in the Midwest and Southwest. After that, I think we will be pretty well covered. How can individuals get involved with The Larry King Cardiac Foundation? Can you also describe the Save a Heart a Day mission? Before I came on board about a year and a half ago, I had been working at another company and was looking into transitioning into something else. My father asked me Would you help me out? I've got a great offer for you. It's half of what you're making, and there is no insurance. Do you want to take a shot at it? I kind of laughed and said what is it?!, and he asked if I wanted to help him run the foundation. It has been a labor of love for me to be able to do this, and our goal at the Foundation is to Save a Heart a day, 365 lives a year saved. It will be great to have my father pick up the phone each day and talk to someone and let them know we are going to help them. So how can people help? Well, we do fundraiser galas and such, but that's not the only way to be a fundraiser. We're hoping that as people go our website and see Matthew's story (the 11-year-old boy), that they may want to go sell some of the bands, direct-donate, or they may have auction items they want to give, because we are going to be doing auctions off our website. We are hoping that people will see and connect with the fact that a lot of people die from heart disease, and there are a lot of people who don't have anywhere else to go to get help. This money will directly save someone's life, someone's heart. That is what connects me, you know. I almost lost my father in 1987, my uncle has had bypass surgery, and my grandfather died from a heart attack. I think about that every day: how can I help others that might not be as fortunate. That is our hope. For more information about The Larry King Cardiac Foundation, please visit the website: www.lkcf.org