Culture

Former Patient Gives Houston’s Texas Heart Institute a Record Breaking $32 Million Gift As a Big Gala Takes Shape

Legendary Heart Surgeon Denton Cooley's Caring Impact Is Still Being Felt

BY // 07.25.23

This is proving to be a big month for Texas Heart Institute, first with the reveal of a $32 million bequest from a former patient and second with solidification of plans for the Houston heart center’s first gala in seven years.

The largest philanthropic gift in the institute’s history comes from New York neurologist Dr. Frederick M. Weissman who was treated by world-renowned cardiac surgeon Dr. Denton Cooley in the mid-1980s. The two became lifelong friends.

As Weissman credited Cooley and the Texas Heart Institute team for saving his life he made an initial gift of $5,000 in November of 1986 and a month later contributed another $5,000. The accompanying letter from Weissman read in part: “My conscience compels me to make another contribution to The Texas Heart Institute. I don’t think I could ever repay you for what you and your staff have done for me.”

The next gift of $500,000 followed in 2005 at the time of the neurologist’s death. The residual of Weissman’s estate, totaling $32 million, was recently awarded to the Texas Heart Institute.

“Those of us who were fortunate enough to work with and be trained by Dr. Cooley know he was much more than just an incredibly gifted surgeon. He established lifelong relationships with his patients and encouraged all of us to do the same,” said renowned transplant surgeon and co-director of THI’s Center for Preclinical Surgical & Interventional Research, Dr. O.H. “Bud” Frazier.

“Dr. Weissman’s extraordinary generosity reflects the impact Dr. Cooley still has on the Institute he founded.”

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Vincent & Mary Kickerillo, center, will serve as honorary co-chairs with Todd Forester and Kelli Kickerillo chair the Texas Heart Institute 'The Supper Club' gala on September 22.
Vincent & Mary Kickerillo, center, will serve as honorary co-chairs with Todd Forester and Kelli Kickerillo chair the Texas Heart Institute ‘The Supper Club’ gala on September 22.

The Supper Club

The Vincent and Mary Kickerillo family has had a long-standing relationship with Texas Heart Institute as well and friendships with its physicians over the decades. The Kickerillos will serve as honorary chairs when THI resumes its fundraising evenings with a special event dubbed “The Supper Club” on September 22 at The Post Oak Hotel.

The couple’s daughter Kelli Kickerillo and son-in-law Todd Forester are chairing the cocktail attire dinner dance headlining  famed party band Pink Martini. Details on the gala are available at events@texasheart.org.

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