By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

David and Stevie SpinaLongtime American Heart Association supporters David and Stevie Spina are donating $2.5 million to support research that would personalize ways to treat and prevent heart disease and stroke, the world’s top two killers.

The donation, announced in early March, supports the Cardiovascular Genome-Phenome Study, which uses data from major studies to examine topics like cardiovascular aging and death in diverse populations, interactions between genes and diet in blood vessel problems, and genetic signatures of tobacco exposure.

David Spina has served in a variety of volunteer leadership positions and currently serves on the AHA’s national board of directors. In 2003, after a heart attack and bypass surgery, his involvement became personal.

“Having a heart attack and observing the procedures to stabilize and restore my health allowed me to have a clearer understanding and appreciation of the knowledge and skill used by the medical team helping me,” he said. “Today’s knowledge is vastly more effective than the information available only 40 years ago, and the death rates from heart attack and stroke are much lower as a result.”

Spina said he faced two kinds of challenges after his heart attack and bypass surgery — physical and emotional. He wrestled with diet and lifestyle changes while learning to keep up with doctors’ appointments and prescriptions. His sense of independence also took a hit.

“During my heart attack and bypass surgery, I felt a profound sense of dependency,” Spina said. “I needed every bit of help I could get from the medical staff who cared for me. My personal challenge was to restore my sense of self-confidence to enable me to be confident about my future.”

Spina’s ordeal increased his desire to give back after “the help, skill and compassion that helped me when I needed it so much.”

In total, the Spinas have donated more than $6 million to the AHA. In 2008, they helped the association fund centers that research ways to improve outcomes for heart disease and stroke patients. The centers trained more than 20 postdoctoral fellows in outcomes research, 15 of whom have moved into faculty positions. More than 300 studies were published based on the centers’ research.

The new donation adds to the Spinas’ “already powerful legacy of philanthropy, which has benefited the American Heart Association mission in many important ways,” said organization CEO Nancy Brown. “All of us are inspired by their commitment to knowledge advancement and the discovery of unprecedented approaches to preventing and treating cardiovascular diseases and stroke.”

CVGPS researchers are accessing massive volumes of data from multiple studies, including the Framingham Heart Study, which has tracked cardiovascular disease in three generations of New Englanders, and the Jackson Heart Study, which focuses on cardiovascular diseases’ impact on African-Americans. Spina believes CVGPS will make cardiovascular research even more effective in the future.

“I’ve learned the pivotal role the American Heart Association plays in translating scientific learning into daily use by doctors and hospitals, and the extensive work it does educating the public about heart health,” he said. “My work let me develop a sense of confidence in the organization and its effectiveness in pursuing its mission. I hope my investment in CVGPS will encourage others to invest in the AHA too.”