Team Builder’s Gift Launches Heart Innovation Hub

Most people understand the importance of team building, but few take it as seriously as Bob Keegan: building innovative and successful teams was the tenet of his professional career. Now Keegan is empowering a pioneering Duke Health team with a transformational gift to kick-start the new Duke Heart Precision and Innovation Collaboratory headed by Manesh Patel, MD, chief of the Division of Cardiology and the Division of Clinical Pharmacology, and the Richard Sean Stack, M.D. Distinguished Professor of Cardiology.


“I am grateful for the many contributions Bob has made to Duke Heart,” Patel said. “We are excited to use his philanthropy to build our team, expand our cardiovascular knowledge base, and then translate that knowledge into new treatments, disease prevention, health promotion, and outstanding patient care. Most importantly, he is supporting our innovation efforts with the next generation of leaders.” 


Keegan grew up around teams. His father was a professional baseball player for the Chicago White Sox, and while Keegan was a talented athlete who grew up thinking baseball was in his future, his love of academics prevailed. What followed was a degree in mathematics from Le Moyne College and an MBA in finance from the University of Rochester. Business, it turns out, was Keegan’s calling. He knew early on that what drove him was a heartfelt desire to build teams that would produce innovative products people would love and benefit from. 


Decades later, it was time to scale back, be closer to family, and plan for the future. Keegan knew that living near a top-notch medical facility such as Duke was important, and with four grandchildren nearby, moving to the Triangle was an easy decision. 


When he suffered heart trouble, Keegan experienced firsthand the incredible talent and skill of the Duke heart team. “My surgery was an amazing experience,” he said. “I benefitted from a tremendous group of talented people, before and after the procedure.” 


The professionalism and team culture he witnessed ignited Keegan’s desire to bolster Duke Heart’s impact and accomplishments. So, when a friend suggested he join the Duke Heart Leadership Council, he leapt at the chance to contribute his time and business expertise. Currently serving as the council chair, Keegan is extending his support with his personal philanthropy toward the development of the new Duke Heart Precision and Innovation Collaboratory. 


The Duke Heart Precision and Innovation Collaboratory aims to expand the boundaries of the possible and improve cardiovascular health worldwide with a comprehensive, long-range, and multi-phased team approach. Phase 1 will identify promising discoveries in precision genomics, device innovations, and human performance. Phase 2 will scale those discoveries to launch clinical trials, research grants, and new treatment options. 


An effort this visionary and all-encompassing, with the potential for global impact, requires immense resources. With a stellar leadership team in place and eager to see the potential realized, Keegan contributed the first $1.5 million toward the Collaboratory’s $10 million fundraising goal. 


This initial funding stimulates the process of collecting and compiling huge swaths of data to build the country’s first comprehensive cardiac genomic database and first comprehensive cardiac performance database. Such large volumes of data will allow Duke Health researchers to conduct in-depth analysis and gain a better understanding of trends and patterns. 


A second area of further research is a deeper understanding of human heart performance. The gap between a high-performing heart and a failing one is surprisingly small, and the variations and drivers that account for the difference are not well understood. The Collaboratory aims to close this gap.


In addition to this work, the team will optimize devices capable of improving individual patients’ physiology. Duke Heart is an innovator in this space, with one of the largest heart failure device laboratories in the United States. Personalizing the future of device therapy for patients with heart failure will save countless lives.


Keegan built his successful business career by making teams better. Sometimes it was a matter of switching personnel, but often it was choosing the right stimulus to bring out the best of existing team members. 


“Duke Heart is a great team that already produces a great product,” he said. “I’m just doing what I can to keep it moving forward so that people are as proud of Duke’s accomplishments in 40 years as they are today.”


By Robin Banker
March 25, 2024
Photography by LKT Photography