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Vin Scully’s Heartfelt Legacy

A gift to establish the Sandra and Vin Scully Heart Rhythm Center will improve cardiac care for the community.

WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 22: U.S. President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to broadcaster and National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Vin Scully during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House November 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. Obama presented the medal to 19 living and two posthumous pioneers in science, sports, public service, human rights, politics and the arts. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

By Patrick J. Kiger

For generations of Angelenos, the late Dodgers radio and TV announcer Vin Scully was more than just the melodious voice who deftly and vividly described the action on the field and charmed everyone with his gift for storytelling. Scully, who came west with the team when it moved to Los Angeles in 1958 and called games for nearly seven decades until his retirement at the end of the 2016 season, had a calm, kind manner that made listeners feel as if he cared about them personally.

But kindness and caring weren’t just Scully’s on-air persona, explains Shephal K. Doshi, MD, the physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center who treated Scully in his later years for a heart rhythm problem and who became a friend as well. “When he would come to see me at the office, we’d spend about 10 or 15 minutes discussing his own heart rhythm issues,” Dr. Doshi says. “Then we would talk for another half an hour, discussing how this problem affects other people.”

After Dr. Doshi explained to him how the heart’s electrical system works and the potentially serious effects when it malfunctions, Scully expressed concern for people whose heart problems were going untreated because of a lack of access to care or awareness of what it could do for them. He wanted them to benefit from the sort of treatment that he got.

“‘How do we get to the community and educate people?’ he would ask,” Dr. Doshi recalls. “That was something he wanted to work on, but unfortunately he got sick quickly at the end and didn’t have a chance.”

But Scully, who passed away in 2022 at age 94, nevertheless found a way to help others. A major posthumous gift from the Scully estate will establish the Sandra and Vin Scully Heart Rhythm Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center. The center’s name honors the famous broadcaster and his beloved wife Sandra. “Dad’s heart carried hers in it every day, and we continue to do that as well,” says the couple’s daughter, Erin Scully.

The center will build upon Saint John’s’ longstanding role as a leading institution in the field of cardiac electrophysiology, the diagnosis and treatment of electrical problems that affect the heart’s function.
In addition to providing heart-rhythm patients with state-of-the-art care, Dr. Doshi envisions leading efforts to raise awareness on treatments for heart rhythm problems. He also hopes to spread the center’s expertise through telemedicine and by webcasting conferences with prominent heart-rhythm experts.

“In homage to Vin, we’re going to utilize his strength as a communicator to educate the community in Los Angeles and the world about heart rhythm problems,” Dr. Doshi says.

A man of faith and principle

Scully’s compassion and respect for other people seem to have been intertwined with both his humble upbringing in the Bronx as a child of Irish immigrants and his devout Roman Catholic faith. Part of Scully’s fondness for Saint John’s may have had to do with his great admiration for the Sisters of Charity and the Sisters who taught him at his Catholic grammar school, according to Susan Wilson, development director for the Saint John’s Health Center Foundation. “Vin and his family’s faith aligned perfectly with our vision to help those in need, especially those who are poor and vulnerable,” she says.

Saint John’s trustee Edward White, a longtime friend of Scully’s and executor of the Scully estate and Trustee of the Scully Trusts, remembers him as a man who treated the average person with the same respect as famous athletes, senior corporate executives and other internationally prominent people. White says, “He will always be remembered as a compassionate, loving and kind human being.”

He describes Scully as “a great role model for people who have achieved immeasurable success and yet remained humble and kind to everyone. I felt fortunate and blessed to have him as a special friend who continues to be an integral part of my life.”

White remembers the honor and privilege of accompanying Scully to the White House in 2016, when then-President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the nation’s highest civilian award. He recalls taking a snapshot of the broadcaster when he was standing with fellow recipients Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. “It was a beautiful moment,” he says.

But as White notes, Scully did not let notoriety keep him from focusing on his own close-knit family of five children—three daughters and two sons—as well as numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. (A third son tragically died in a 1994 helicopter accident.) One of White’s favorite photographs is Scully posing with his extended family at Dodger Stadium. “Vin truly loved and appreciated his family, and nothing was more important to him,” White explains.

Scully’s connection to Saint John’s dates back decades and extended beyond his medical care. He was a frequent participant at the foundation’s golf tournaments that raised funds for the health center’s programs and community services. In 2000, Scully was honored with the Caritas Award for his spirit of charity, compassion and commitment to humanity at the Saint John’s Health Center Foundation Gala that benefited the neonatal intensive care unit at Saint John’s.

At the event, actor Kevin Costner, who grew up in Southern California, spoke about how he listened to Scully’s broadcasts in his backyard as a boy fantasizing about playing someday for
the Dodgers. When he got to meet Scully years later, he recalled his nervousness at meeting an idol—until Scully put him at ease with his friendliness.

“I had been told that it’s best not to meet your heroes, because they can’t live up to it,” Costner recalled after the event. “But they can. And that day, my hero became my friend.”

The heart’s electrical system

In later life, Scully’s heart problems brought him to Saint John’s to receive treatment from Dr. Doshi, who in addition to his clinical work is also a researcher with an extensive body of published work. Among other achievements, Dr. Doshi helped pioneer the use of the Watchman implant, which helps prevent blood clots and strokes in patients with irregular heart rhythms. Now he’ll try to build on his famous patient’s legacy in the new heart rhythm center bearing Scully’s name.

Dr. Doshi’s field, cardiac electrophysiology, involves studying and correcting problems in the heart’s electrical system. “A lot of people don’t know that when the heart beats, it’s because of electricity,” he says. “Without electricity, the heart doesn’t know when or how fast to beat.”

Above the heart, he says, a group of cells that he calls “the board of directors” function as a natural pacemaker, shooting electricity to the heart to make it work. Dr. Doshi describes the heart’s electrical system as in some ways resembling the one inside a house.

“If there’s a problem with the electricity, you know—the lights start flickering. The same sort of thing happens with the heart,” he says. Like aging wiring in a home, the heart’s electrical system can deteriorate through normal aging, but it also can be damaged by conditions such as high blood pressure, which puts stress upon the heart, and sleep apnea, which deprives the heart of needed oxygen, leading to the equivalent of short-circuits in the heart’s wiring. The malfunctions can disrupt the heart’s normal rhythm, causing it to beat too slowly or too fast or irregularly.

Those deviations from the heart’s normal rhythm, in turn, can have serious consequences for a person’s health. The common type of irregular heartbeat, atrial fibrillation, which affects millions of Americans, increases the risk of stroke by a factor of five but often goes undetected until a patient suffers a stroke. Though A-fib can be treated with medicines, surgery and lifestyle changes, Dr. Doshi says that by some estimates, more than one million Americans are walking around unprotected.

“A common patient that we see is a 70-year-old who feels short of breath and tired and has palpitations,” Doshi says. “Many of those patients have A-fib.”

Promoting awareness
“If we could educate the public and provide therapies that reduce stroke risk, think of the gigantic impact this could have on patients, their families and also on the economy and productivity,” Dr. Doshi says.

That’s one of the reasons that Dr. Doshi is eager to fulfill Scully’s dream of informing people about the risks of heart rhythm disorders and providing them with the care they need. He envisions the Sandra and Vin Scully Heart Rhythm Center as “not just a local influence around California and in the region, but a national center for promoting management of heart rhythm therapy.”

Saint John’s is already on the cutting-edge of treatment for irregular heartbeats, Dr. Doshi says. “We’re one of the few centers in the world that can perform the Watchman procedure without requiring general anesthesia. We can do the procedure with the patient wide awake and minimally sedated. We’ve pioneered ways that we can image the heart without putting a tube down their throats. We’re always looking to the future, pushing the envelope, and trying to make things less invasive with improved safety and better outcomes. Being leaders in that space, allows us to do it.”

Hopefully, Sandra and Vin Scully’s generosity will inspire others to help Saint John’s to provide state-of-the-art care to even more patients. “Every gift makes a difference, and giving something in Vin Scully’s name will help promote better health care for the community,” Dr. Doshi says.

To learn more about the Sandra and Vin Scully Heart Rhythm Center, please visit www.scullyheartrythm.org