Gift Ensures Fellowship in Cardiovascular Disease

Receiving excellent care by cardiology fellows and observing impressive teaching moments at The Johns Hopkins Hospital inspired Leslie Pfenninger to support the cardiology fellowship program.

Pfenninger’s relationship with the Division of Cardiology started in 2009, when her then 85-year-old mother, Margaret, had a heart attack and was hospitalized in the coronary care unit (CCU). At the time, CCU Director Steven Schulman, M.D.’s associate director, Rhondalyn McLean, M.D., cared for her mother and became her mother’s cardiologist after discharge. Also during the hospital stay, Schulman spent a half-hour talking to Margaret about her health concerns.

“My mom was always someone who was slow to trust people, and didn’t really pick up a lot on medical concepts,” Pfenninger recalls, but Schulman “made a great connection with her.”

When McLean decided to take a new job, Pfenninger asked if her mother could see Schulman instead. “Let me see if I can make that happen,” McLean said. Margaret finished her life under Schulman’s care.

Before McLean left, Pfenninger became a cardiology patient at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. While there, she had a eureka moment. With the door to her hospital room open, Pfenninger twice heard McLean in the hallway teaching cardiology fellows, discussing how to expand their relationship with patients. “If this is the type of knowledge Dr. Schulman passed to Dr. McLean, and she’s passing it along to the next generation, this is really interesting.”

McLean popped in to see Pfenninger, who asked if Schulman would be available to be her cardiologist. “I don’t know if he’s taking new patients but he is interested in multigenerational heart disease,” McLean replied. “Let me see if I can make that happen,” she said again. She did.

When Pfenninger learned from Schulman that the hospital’s cardiology fellowship is very competitive for just a few slots, she was inspired to make a significant gift. Through her estate, she established The Leslie J. Pfenninger Endowed Fellowship in Cardiovascular Disease. Additional money will support fellowship training and research in ocular surface diseases at the Wilmer Eye Institute, in thanks for superior care she and her mother have received there.

“What I’m hoping to do with my gift is extend that excellence of Johns Hopkins,” says Pfenninger, of Bowie, Maryland, a retired government employee and author of a website dedicated to the history of A&M Records. “It’s all about one person teaching another, taking that knowledge with them into every hospital where they work and giving their best in patient care. . . . Making the decision to endow with Hopkins is one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made, and I feel one of the best.”

Part of Johns Hopkins’ mission is to recruit the highest caliber fellows and to train the next generation of leaders, says Schulman, a 1988 graduate of the cardiology fellowship program: “These people become not only our colleagues during fellowship but often join us in faculty and rapidly rise to both national and international leadership positions,” he says. “Leslie’s gift ensures that we’ll be able to keep funding our fellows in perpetuity so that mission continues.”