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Dr. W. Randolph Chitwood Jr. speaks during dedication of the new East Carolina Heart Institute Dec. 11, in Greenville. Chitwood, a heart surgeon at East Carolina University, is director of the institute. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

ECU, PCMH Dedicate New Heart Institute

By Doug Boyd

Officials from East Carolina University and University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina dedicated the East Carolina Heart Institute Dec. 11.

Several hundred invited guests joined leaders from the two organizations to celebrate the facility. The heart institute puts ECU and Pitt County Memorial Hospital “at the forefront of progress and the cutting edge of the future,” said Dr. W. Randolph Chitwood Jr., director of the institute.

“What we dedicate today is a concept called the East Carolina Heart Institute that encompasses these new facilities, dedicated to the people of this region, and to the physicians, researchers, educators and staff devoted to their care,” said Chitwood, who is chief of cardiothoracic surgery and vascular surgery in the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences at the Brody School of Medicine at ECU. He is also senior associate vice chancellor for health sciences at ECU.

The dedication ceremony, held at the institute, capped more than four years of work to bring a world-class cardiovascular disease institute to eastern North Carolina. In 2004, the N.C. General Assembly approved $60 million for a research, education and outpatient care facility at ECU. PCMH secured private funding for a $160 million bed tower.

Many who attended the ceremony also toured the two facilities after the event ended.

The celebration marked “the most significant collaboration University Health Systems and East Carolina University have ever undertaken,” said UHS chief executive Dave McRae. “It’s the biggest step of a journey we started more than 30 years ago, when a small county hospital and a fledgling medical school committed to forming the world-class academic medical center we’re part of today.”

ECU and PCMH have been “joined at the hip” for decades, ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard said. “The East Carolina Heart Institute is the latest partnership between us, and it will make a major and lasting impact in eastern North Carolina, the entire state and beyond,” Ballard said.

The new buildings are not the only sign of a new approach to heart disease for ECU and PCMH. The two organizations have also redefined their model for treating cardiovascular illnesses. Both have organized their clinical staffs around illnesses and disease processes, rather than following a traditional model based on academic specialties. That new model encourages more information sharing among doctors and puts new emphasis on patients’ best interests, Chitwood said.

The prevalence of cardiovascular disease in North Carolina justifies the massive investment in treating and researching heart and vascular illnesses. Cardiovascular disease is the second-leading cause of death in the state, and nearly a quarter of North Carolinians suffer from cardiovascular ailments.

Planning for the institute dates to 2003. Groundbreaking was held in 2006.

This page originally appeared in the Jan. 30, 2009 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at