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For Raymond Benza, MD, a move to The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center marked an opportunity to flourish.
Already an accomplished clinician and research scientist internationally renowned in his field—not to mention a knight, but more on that later—Dr. Benza sees great potential in the depth of expertise and resources that await him as director of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine.
“It was clear this was the right place for me,” Dr. Benza says. “In my career, I’ve always wanted to build programs and people. Being a division director at a place like Ohio State helps me fulfill my dream.”
Dr. Benza joined Ohio State in 2020, bringing with him 25 years of experience in heart failure, cardiac transplantation, mechanical circulatory support and pulmonary hypertension. Previously the system director of Advanced Heart Failure, Transplant, Mechanical Circulatory Support and Pulmonary Hypertension at Allegheny Health Network (AHN) in Pittsburgh, he’s published nearly 200 articles in peer-reviewed journals and is an National Institutes of Health-, National Heart, Lungs, and Blood Institute- and American Heart Association-funded investigator, currently serving as principal investigator on a nearly $3 million R01 grant to develop a multiplatform clinical decision support system for physicians in pulmonary arterial hypertension.
He has served as an investigator in over 80 clinical trials, including an NIH-funded study investigating the use of genetic fingerprints, indwelling hemodynamic monitors and novel risk prognostic tools for patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension. Among decades of ground-breaking research, he says the highlight of his career is his work improving pulmonary arterial hypertension patient risk stratification to ensure a fairer distribution of donor lungs for patients with end-stage pulmonary diseases. The resulting REVEAL 2.0 risk calculator is now used in clinical trials and hospitals around the world to help clinicians assess their patient risk and guide treatment decisions.
“Dr. Benza brings an energy and focus that will elevate our clinical programs, accelerate our research enterprise and propel Ohio State to the forefront of cardiovascular care,” says Thomas Ryan, MD, director of The Ohio State University Heart and Vascular Center and executive director of the Ohio State Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital.
An expert in advanced heart failure, including cardiac transplantation and artificial hearts, and pulmonary vascular disease, Dr. Benza has dedicated much of his career to finding a cure for pulmonary hypertension—a passion he discovered as a cardiology fellow at the University of Alabama at Birmingham after watching young patients suffer from the deadly and complex disease.
“In the beginning, I was very much a heart transplant person. But as part of our training, we saw patients with pulmonary hypertension because their only treatment at that time was heart and lung transplants,” Dr. Benza says. “I got to meet these patients and developed a passion for seeing them—many of them young women of childbearing age—recognizing that their whole life was in front of them and it was robbed by this disease.”
Dr. Benza’s pursuit of life-saving treatments for pulmonary hypertension has helped triple the life expectancy of those who suffer from the disease. It’s also helped him forge deep and meaningful bonds with the patients he treats. Many years ago one former patient, a lively nurse whose case of pulmonary hypertension preceded modern therapies, saw how distraught Dr. Benza became watching her condition deteriorate. He knew there was nothing more he could do to help her.
“She reached out to me and said, ‘Dr. Benza, you have to remember you can’t always move mountains.’”
And so instead, he climbed them. First he summited Grand Teton in Wyoming, then he ascended the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Both times Dr. Benza, named Physician of the Year by the Pulmonary Hypertension Association in 2013, used the climbs to raise money and awareness for pulmonary hypertension research, tapping into a philanthropic spirit he’s eager to explore at Ohio State.
Dr. Benza will also continue to build on his research at Ohio State, with plans to enrich translational research in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine by expanding his laboratory through the hiring of several new translational scientists and continuing and launching innovative new trials in pulmonary hypertension and heart failure.
“Dr. Benza will be transformative in building innovative programs to improve health in our patients with heart disease,” says Rama Mallampalli, MD, professor and chair of Ohio State’s Department of Internal Medicine.
He brings to central Ohio unique sponsors that the region has never seen, opening the door to innovative drugs and devices to advance cardiovascular care. In early 2020, he helped Ohio State become the first health system in the state to launch a new clinical trial that uses inhaled nitric oxide to improve coronavirus outcomes and keep COVID-19 patients out of intensive care. Dr. Benza serves as co-principal investigator alongside Ohio State cardiologist Sitaramesh Emani, MD.
And finally, Dr. Benza brings that knighthood mentioned earlier, a curious little story he says not many know about. About a decade ago, he received a gorgeous letter in the mail from Italy’s House of Savoy inviting him to a knighting ceremony to honor his philanthropic efforts in pulmonary hypertension awareness and research. He tossed the letter aside, assuming it was a joke until his phone rang weeks later and the voice on the other end asked: “Did you not want this?” The rest is royal history.