The Gieszl Family are Donors who Continue to Build the Sarver Heart Center

As Sarver Heart Center faculty and staff reflected on the thousands of donors who helped build and grow our center of excellence during the past 30 years, we wished we could recognize each person individually, but that would require a book about a thousand pages long. Instead, as we embark on our next 30 years, we’ll feature donors who continue to help advance our mission, often with a long history of giving to the Sarver Heart Center in support of our mission of research and education to prevent illness and death due to cardiovascular disease.

Turning Family Sorrow into a Hopeful Future

The Gieszl family established the William J. “Billy” Gieszl Endowment for Heart Research in 1998, to support research focused on improving prevention, diagnosis and treatment of congenital heart disease. Jim’s son, Billy, was born in 1977 with tricuspid atresia, a congenital condition that decreases flow of blood through the heart. Billy required several surgeries, a pacemaker and a heart transplant before he passed away in 1993 at age 16.

Through the heart research endowment, the Gieszl family has funded 16 Sarver Heart Center Investigator Awards. Recipients of these awards have collected data that supported successful applications for larger grants from the National Institutes of Health and other funding bodies. This is an amazing return on investment! Work funded by the Billy Gieszl Endowment for Heart Research has directly resulted in national guidelines that improved screening for congenital heart conditions in newborns in Arizona and across the U.S. The Gieszl family continues to contribute to the endowment.

“Applications for the 2017 Sarver Heart Center Investigator Awards are rolling in right now. When the committee meets later this month, they will again be looking for strong science in congenital heart disease to support with this precious fund,” said Nancy K. Sweitzer, MD, PhD, director of the UA Sarver Heart Center and chief of cardiology at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson.   

Besides Jim’s service as a board member, he and Amy have hosted family, friends and faculty in their home to help Sarver Heart Center educate the community about the important research underway at the University of Arizona to improve understanding and treatment of patients and their families living with congenital heart disease.  

“The Gieszls are an inspiring example. This family lived with a difficult disease, interacted more than any of us would choose with cardiologists and surgeons, and then chose to turn sorrow into more hopeful outcomes for other families who have  a child born with abnormal cardiovascular anatomy,” said Dr. Sweitzer.

“Thanks to years of research and dedicated clinical care, supported by generous families like the Gieszls, children born with congenital heart disease in 2017 can expect to live beyond age 16,” said Scott Klewer, MD, professor of pediatrics and medicine, chief of the Division of Pediatric Cardiology, and the Sarver Heart Center’s Peggy M. Barrett Endowed Chair for Congenital Heart disease in Adults at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson. “It no longer seems impossible that a day will come when inspired philanthropy like this leads to breakthroughs that allow these children to live a normal lifespan.”

The Gieszl family used memorial gifts to establish the Billy Gieszl Endowment for Heart Research. To learn more about gift methods to support Sarver Heart Center’s mission, please contact Cheryl House, Senior Director of Development, (520) 626-6022,

Read more Sarver Heart Center news in the Summer 2017 Newsletter.