Grant Van Siclen Parr

Renowned Cardiac Surgery Program Results From Enthusiasm and Dedication

Grant smiling

Grant Van Siclen Parr and wife Helen

When Grant Van Siclen Parr started as an orderly at Morristown Medical in the early '60s, the Wesleyan University student had no idea that this chance employment would alter both the trajectory of his career path and the future of cardiovascular medicine in New Jersey.

At the time, the physics major was enthralled with the bustling hospital and reveled in his duties: "I was a combined transport and aid—I cleaned the OR, got patients on and off the table, and made a great pot of coffee," he says, fondly reflecting on his first hospital post.

After this brief medical introduction, he was hooked.

Returning to college, the young student picked up some premed courses and then attended Cornell University Medical College. After serving as chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center–University of Pennsylvania Health System, he returned in 1988 to Morristown Medical as chief of the region's first cardiovascular surgery program. Shortly thereafter, he performed the hospital's first open-heart operation, followed by many more in rapid succession. By the end of the first year, the program's surgeons had performed 581 cardiac surgeries.

Over time, with Dr. Parr at the helm, Morristown Medical's cardiovascular surgery program gained prestigious recognition, ranked by HCIA-Sachs Institute among the nation's top 100 cardiovascular programs in 2000 and named a Solucient Top 100 hospital for cardiac surgery the following year.

Yet among the successes, misfortune waited. Dr. Parr's surgical career came to a dramatic end in 2004, when he was a passenger in an automobile accident that damaged his chest and arm. "I had to reinvent myself," he says. "I became more involved with hospital administration and fundraising."

What skills the surgery department lost, the Foundation for Morristown Medical Center surely gained as Dr. Parr deftly moved to bolster the hospital's fundraising efforts. His focus: to raise money to build a $200 million flagship facility to house all of the hospital's cardiovascular services. Not only was Dr. Parr instrumental in designing and gaining town approval for construction of the 250,000-square-foot project, but he also helped spearhead the Campaign for the Heart, which raised $45 million from the community to build Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute. In recognition for his efforts, Dr. Parr received the Health Foundation's 2006 Augusta Stone Award.

For Dr. Parr, fundraising isn't hard because he's merely highlighting a strong program that he believes in. "Most people can read my enthusiasm for Gagnon and its programs," he says. "I rarely do any asking for money; I just show what we do so well."

As a member of the Health Foundation's board, he leads by example. He and his wife Helen gave a substantial gift to the Campaign for the Heart, followed by a charitable gift annuity (CGA). "For me, it's important to give back to the community," he says. In addition to benefiting the hospital, the couple's choice charity, the CGA provides them benefits including a life income, a major tax deduction, and recognition on the Donor Wall. Another advantage that he didn't foresee: "The timing was impeccable, as it was a good time to take money out of the market," he says, alluding to the recession.

Although the hospital occupies a good portion of Dr. Parr's days, he still carves out time for himself. Looking relaxed and tan, he recently returned from a fly-fishing trip out West. He and Helen share a passion for travel, recent trips taking them to Holland, France, and Belgium. And he's happy that he has influenced his two daughters: One is a cardiac anesthesiologist and the other edits online medical and scientific journals.

With the opening last January of Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute, the physician-in-chief has yet another reason to keep touting the largest cardiac surgery program in New Jersey, one he has helped build over the past 21 years.

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