A faculty of international superstars, a referral Mecca for the toughest cases within a five-state area and beyond, and a highly sought after postgraduate specialty training program has lifted the cardiology and heart surgery programs at UT Southwestern to the national level, according to Dr. Joseph Hill, chief of cardiology and director of the Harry S. Moss Heart Center.

“We want to be known for this: When a referring doctor calls us, they can get a colleague on the phone, and they can send their patient to us right away,” Dr. Hill said. “Evidence-based medicine, research-driven care – this accounts for 90 percent of our success. The rest of our message is: ‘We’ll keep you closely involved, and we’ll send the patient back home to you.’”

And the patients come – patients with congenital heart disease, with advanced heart failure, in need of heart and lung transplants, with pulmonary hypertension, in need of complex electrophysiology or advanced imaging.

“We’ve seen rapid growth in our clinical practice,” he said. “Most of our faculty are clinically active and at the same time are conducting vibrant, cutting-edge research. What sets us apart from other programs in the region is the cross-talk that happens between clinicians and researchers, many of whom work with grants from the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health.”

A prime example of research reaching the patient can be found in the famous Dallas Heart Study, in which a multi-ethnic group of 6,000 Dallas County residents have been evaluated for heart disease.

“We have an international reputation in research,” said Dr. Hill, who holds the James T. Willerson, M.D., Distinguished Chair in Cardiovascular Diseases and the Frank M. Ryburn Jr. Chair in Heart Research. “In the opinion of many of our colleagues, we are the best in the world in understanding the fundamental biology of heart disease and applying it to new treatments.”

The counterpart to the cardiology division is the Department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery, whose new chairman, Dr. Michael Jessen, said, “Our patient care is distinguished in that we can evaluate and care for patients in a multidisciplinary manner through our Heart and Lung Transplant Programs.”

Since 1988, when the Heart Transplant Program was initiated at UT Southwestern under Dr. Steves Ring, more than 700 adult and pediatric transplants have been performed. The program marked its 20-year anniversary as nationally recognized for having one of the best post-transplant survival rates in the country, and it remains a leader in Texas in terms of survival, both for adult patients and for children with congenital heart defects, who are treated at Children’s Medical Center Dallas.

In 2010, the heart program performed at a record pace, in part because of the wider availability of left ventricular assist devices that keep hearts in need of transplants pumping until a donor heart becomes available.

“The advanced heart failure program at UT Southwestern is active and growing, has outcomes that rank among the best in the country and is a uniquely valuable resource for the community,” said Dr. Jessen, who holds the Frank M. Ryburn Jr. Distinguished Chair in Cardiothoracic Surgery and Transplantation.