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Matters of the Heart: Evan Zahn, MD

As we approach Valentine’s day, we asked Smidt Heart Institute experts to weigh in on the biggest cardiology game-changers to date, as well as the next cardiology breakthroughs. And because nonexperts tend to associate the heart with this anatomically inaccurate emoji and all things pitter-patter—they told us their favorite love stories as well.

Expertise

When Evan Zahn, MD, was in medical school, the field of interventional pediatric cardiology was in its infancy. Today, he is one of the world’s preeminent experts, having ushered in revolutionary, lifesaving interventions for treating congenital heart defects and structural heart problems with minimally invasive procedures. He’s credited with several cardiovascular firsts, including the first minimally invasive procedure that spares patients with a common congenital heart defect from undergoing multiple open-heart surgeries. Zahn currently heads a multicenter, nationwide clinical trial testing a procedure he’s pioneered to noninvasively mend holes in the hearts of premature infants.

Game-changer

"I would point to three advances as the most meaningful. First, the dramatically increased survival rates for infant heart surgeries," Zahn says, noting that many procedures now have survival rates of 100%. "Second is our ability to treat all four valves of the heart without requiring open-heart surgery. And third is taking the procedures we've developed for adults and children and successfully transferring them to the tiniest babies."

Next breakthrough

Zahn calls a stent he’s developing with biomedical engineers "the Holy Grail." "The goal is to create a stent that could be inserted into a tiny baby's narrowed pulmonary artery and remain there through adulthood," he says. "We've successfully completed animal studies, but still have a long way to go to bring this technology to our patients."

Favorite love story

His parents. "Their story always has been a little magical to me," Zahn says. After returning from World War II to his family's Brooklyn home, his father was walking down the street and spotted a woman sitting on a stoop. It was mutual love at first sight, and they married soon after her high school graduation. "Mom is 90 and has been a widow for 15 years," Zahn explains. She never got remarried or even went on a date. "She always says, 'I married the man of my dreams, and there will never be anyone else.'"