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Meet Dr. Boo!

Get to know Enduring Hearts Board Member, Scientific Liaison, and Scientific Advisory Committee Member, Dr. Robert Boucek! “Dr. Boo”, as he is called by his patients, has dedicated his life to medicine and has had an incredible and illustrious career in the field of pediatric cardiology. Get to know Dr. Boo a little bit better by taking the chance to read a short Q&A with him!

Serving as the Enduring Hearts Scientific Liaison since 2018, Dr. Robert Boucek has been instrumental to the Enduring Hearts mission and research efforts and discoveries! We took a minute and spoke with Dr. Boo about his incredible career and accomplishments, hear directly from Dr. Boo himself below!

Q: How did you get into the medical field?

As the oldest of five children, I grew up driving to summer jobs in my Fathers lab, an adult Cardiologist, and Howard Hughes Investigator at the University of Miami. His father, my grandfather, was a first-generation Family Physician caring for immigrant families of steelworkers in Pitt, Pa. I never thought about another profession. I have two brothers, Frank, an adult Cardiologists, and Mark, a Pediatric Cardiologist.

 Q: Your CV is extremely impressive with over 100 Peer-Reviewed Publications and 96 Abstracts. Along with Vanderbilt, are there any other Transplant Centers that you helped begin and worked to help start?

When I completed my training in Pediatric Cardiology at Vanderbilt, we needed better treatments for end-stage heart diseases in children. While a small number of adolescents were being transplanted at Vanderbilt, the need was for smaller children with congenital heart diseases. At the same time, the first infant was transplanted at Loma Linda. With my connections to Loma Linda, I acquired the skills necessary and proposed developing the capability for infant heart transplantation. Bill Frist was the transplant surgeon at Vanderbilt at that time. I was later recruited to All Children’s Hospital at the University of South Florida to be their Chief of Cardiology. At that time, there was an unmet need for a pediatric heart transplant program to serve the region. After completing the process for a Certificate of Need, our team was approved for two years to perform up to 20 heart transplants in infants under 2 years of age. I was the Program Co-Director and Pediatric Cardiologist for the program. The renewal was contingent on our outcomes. We completed 20 infant transplants with 100% survival to discharge and give license to be a State-approved heart transplant program. I was later recruited to Seattle Children’s hospital as Co-Director of the Heart Program. The Program had done an adolescent transplant in the prior 5 years who moved out of the area for his post-transplant care following the death of the only Cardiologist there with transplant experience. I reactivated the program as demand there for heart transplantation was high with 10 new heart transplants in year 1. After 2 years and recruiting an additional transplant cardiologist, I turned the program over to him to work with the lab of Dr. Chuck Murry on cardiac stem cell transplantation as a future option to organ transplantation. That program continues to be very active.

Q: With this incredible and extensive background, can you speak to what motivates you the most as you serve as the Scientific Liaison of Enduring Hearts? 

I saw an ad for research applications for Pediatric Heart Transplantation funded by Enduring Hearts. I had remained committed to contributing to research in this area, so I went to one of the previous Enduring Hearts Bourbon Galas and through Dr. Mahle, was introduced to members of the Enduring Hearts Board of Directors. In working with one of my past trainees on her application for Enduring Hearts funding, I was invited to be a more active member of Enduring Hearts; and accepted the opportunity to help identify, and support, innovative research in the field of Pediatric Heart Transplantation.

Q: Throughout your career, you have seen more than the average person and have been able to help so many people across the country. Is there any one moment, situation, discovery, etc. that you have been a part of that stands out to you that you could share? 

One day I received a consult from the newborn nursery. I had finished my four-year fellowship in Pediatric Cardiology at Vanderbilt and was a junior faculty member on call. I received a “heart murmur” consult from the normal newborn nursery prior to discharge home. The baby was all dressed ready to go home – parents anxious to get on the road. To make a long story short, we diagnosed that their child had an inoperable heart defect. She died within 24 hours. Recently, Baby Fay had made the news, the first infant heart transplant performed at Loma Linda, Ca. She only lived a short time but demonstrated the technical feasibility of infant heart transplantation. As I later lamented to my brother Mark about this sad story, he raised the possibility of learning how to keep these kids alive to find a donor and then protect them after transplantation. Pediatric heart transplantation became the focus of my career and my research interests from that point on.

Q: What are 1-2 areas of emerging research you see as the most promising?

There are so many emerging areas of research relevant to Pediatric Heart Transplantation that are promising. The first emerging area is the introduction of “big data”-based methodologies into medical decision making in general and in the complex care of children before and after their heart transplantation. The second emerging area is the development of methodologies to recreate beating and perfused human heart tissue to simulate, and prevent/reverse, donor heart injuries.

Q: What was your favorite toy as a child?

My favorite toy was my two-wheel bike.