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Institutional Advancement & Philanthropy

Stephen Lazzaro Cardiovascular Fund

Stephen Lazzaro Cardiovascular Fund

Photo of Stephen Lazzaro

Stephen Lazzaro

All funds raised for the Stephen Lazzaro Cardiovascular Fund will be used for research related to heart valve diseases, cardiac arrhythmias and/or related areas of cardiovascular clinical, basic science, and translational research.

To make a donation to this fund, visit Giving Online.


Stephen Lazzaro is one of the lucky ones.

Congenital Aortic Stenois Research

Dr. Borer appeared on the MSG Network's High School Weekly with Dr. Douglas Lazarro, Chair of SUNY Downstate's Department of Ophthalmology discussing Lazarro's son. Steven Lazarro, a 17-year-old star basketball player for Poly Prep arrested at a basketball game and was brought back to life by his father and another physician parent at the game. Steven suffers from congenital aortic stenois, which with extreme exercise, can bring on arrhythmia. The Lazarros have started a foundation to underwrite research on valve disease and arrhythmia. Monies raised will be give to the Howard Gilman Institute for Heart Valve Disease, which will design and perform the research.

Every year in the US, an average of 66 young athletes die suddenly of cardiac arrest while participating in sporting events. Lazzaro, the star point guard of the Brooklyn Poly Prep high school basketball team, collapsed a quarter of the way into a game against New Jersey rivals in January, 2008. "You had a cardiac death," his doctor later told him.

Photo of Dr. Douglas Lazzaro

Douglas Lazzaro, MD
Chairman, Department of Ophthalmology

Photo of Stephen Lazzaro playing basketball

Stephen Lazzaro
playing for Brooklyn Poly Prep high school

But quick action on the part of medical professionals present—parents who had came to watch the play, including Lazzaro's own father, Dr. Douglas Lazzaro, Chairman of Downstate's Department of Ophthalmology—and the presence of a portable defibrillator, which helped shock the younger Lazzaro back to life, saved Stephen Lazzaro, who now looks forward to college.

"It was a nightmare that ended in a miracle," Dr. Lazzaro says. Not only did Stephen survive, but he sustained no brain damage and no damage to his heart.

While recuperating in the intensive care unit, Stephen decided to devote some of his considerable energies to raising money for cardiovascular causes. In particular, for research into the origins of and treatments for heart valve problems and the abnormal and irregular heart rhythms known as arrhythmias. Such problems are the likely cause of Lazzaro's cardiac arrest. As a pre-teen, Stephen had been diagnosed with aortic stenosis, a narrowing in the valve that controls blood flow in one of the heart's four chambers. (The summer before his cardiac arrest, after a stress test to check his heart's fitness, he received the go-ahead from his doctor to play basketball competitively.)

Thus, from a moment of inspiration in the intensive care unit, the Stephen Lazzaro Cardiovascular Fund was born.

Photo of Dr. Jeffrey Borer

Jeffrey S. Borer, MD
Chief of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine

The Fund, which accepts donations from individuals, foundations, corporations and other interested parties, will be used by Downstate clinicians and scientists to broaden and accelerate the Medical Center's already impressive investigations into these two vexing types of heart disease. "The research we have ongoing right now ranges from studies in people with heart-valve disease through to research into the fundamental cellular and molecular processes that underlie these illnesses," says Dr. Jeffrey Borer, the nationally renowned researcher and clinician who heads Downstate's Howard Gilman Institute of Heart Valve Disease. Dr. Borer will supervise the selection and distribution of the Fund's research grants. "The money raised by the Stephen Lazzaro Cardiovascular Fund will help us explore emerging areas of cardiovascular research."

Among those are the relationship between arrhythmias and heart-valve disease. The two types of ailments are sometimes interrelated and other times not. Says Dr. Borer, "at present, funding for this kind of dual-focused research is virtually non-existent, despite the fact that the problem," interrelated arrhythmias and heart-valve disease, "is quite common."

Dr. Lazzaro's goal is to raise at least $2 million in the next two years. "Federal funding for valve disease is abysmal," Dr. Borer says, "so having additional funding can be particularly helpful."

And not just to individuals like Stephen Lazzaro. More than five million Americans have moderate to severe heart-valve disease. Another 2.5 million suffer from life-threatening arrhythmias. "Even though the emphasis in the media is on coronary artery disease," the build-up of fatty deposits that can block blood flow to the heart, "heart-valve disease and arrhythmias are very widespread," Dr. Borer observes.

More than 50 percent of people over age 70 have some heart valve abnormality. And as the US population ages, Dr. Borer notes, "heart-valve disease is emerging as a public health issue." Over the last 25 years, even as hospital admissions have decreased overall, "admissions associated with valve disease diagnoses have increased by an average of 9 percent annually," Dr. Borer says.

Some of that increase is due to the fact that "people with heart-valve disease are often diagnosed late in the course of their illness," thereby missing opportunities to minimize the adverse effects of the problem, Dr. Borer explains. Diagnosing heart-valve disease can be difficult for many frontline medical providers such as general practitioners and internists. "They aren't specifically trained in detecting valve abnormalities, which can be quite subtle," Dr. Borer says.

Photo of Stephen Lazzaro playing basketball

Stephen Lazzaro
playing from the very beginning.

The Fund aims to help change that. "Outreach to heighten awareness among physicians and potential patients is a very important focus of the Fund's research program," Dr. Borer says.

Medical advances supported by the Fund's donors will be of particular benefit in Downstate's central Brooklyn neighborhood. "In this part of Brooklyn, people with valve disease are commonly detected only after they have become seriously ill," Dr. Borer notes. Often, their disease is advanced enough to require urgent surgery, when "their long-term survival may well be compromised, compared to people who receive attention earlier in the course of their illness," Dr. Borer says.

A few weeks after Stephen Lazzaro came home from the hospital with an automatic defibrillator the size of a pocket watch implanted in his chest, he gave a speech to his high school classmates, the school's faculty and staff. "He said that in life, things don't always go perfectly. There are bumps in the road. Things can get you down. But you need to move forward," Dr. Lazzaro notes, with great pride. "You need to advance."

By supporting research into arrhythmias and heart-valve disease, contributors to the Stephen Lazzaro Cardiovascular Fund can help Downstate's clinicians and scientists do just that.


Video of Stephen's story

MSG Network's High School Weekly with Dr. Douglas Lazarro and Dr. Jeffrey borer discussing Lazarro's son Steven Lazarro.

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