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Toby's Take: Barbara MacArthur Has Heart

Inside the Parade of Hearts event showcasing the vast amount of hearts

June 15, 2022

You’ll understand at the end of this post why Barbara MacArthur has a broken heart.

This blog entry about the vice president of cardiac services at The University of Kansas Health System got its start a year ago. I met MacArthur last summer at my first public relations-type event with the health system. I picked her up at the hospital, in fact.

“I’ll be the only one in a black dress on a hot day waiting for you,” she said on the phone as I approached. I instantly liked her.

Going to the Parade

MacArthur joined a prominent group of city leaders at Union Station that day to show their support for the Kansas City Parade of Hearts. Since then, the 156 hearts, including the 1 at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence celebrating the Kansas Jayhawks’ national basketball championship, have been on display around town. We had 14 hearts placed at health system facilities.

Many of the hearts are being auctioned off for charity, including a live auction this Friday, June 17. Proceed recipients include our cardiovascular program.

“Parade of Hearts is so rooted in the right things to draw the community together,” said MacArthur. “I’m proud of our part in it early on, honored that we are one of the recipients. Nothing short of wonderful.”

Like so many in Kansas City, MacArthur’s heart swelled with pride over the display. She could feel it deep inside when she walked into the cavernous Hale Arena at the American Royal Complex this past spring. Organizers of the Parade of Hearts had displayed the large fiberglass hearts so donors and the artists who decorated them could see them all at once.

“I halted right there in my tracks and looked around. I was completely overwhelmed,” MacArthur recalled. “I had a lump in my throat, tears in my eyes.”

A friend had just walked up to her at the time, and MacArthur felt like she had blown her off because she could barely utter a hello. She called her later to apologize. That’s so Barbara MacArthur.

At the heart of healthcare

She joined our medical family in the mid-1980s. While 1998 was “the big year” in our near history with the establishment of The University of Kansas Hospital Authority, MacArthur says the seeds of cardiac greatness had been planted before that.

“I have a very positive sense of that time. I often say, 'I’m glad I am as old as I am because I remember things that go way back.'”

The health system went on to greatly expand its cardiac care over the next 2 decades while MacArthur and her husband, Dr. Richard MacArthur, a heart surgeon, ventured out. They lived and worked in Texas and Florida. All the while, MacArthur worked on national and international heart transplant policies.

A meaningful homecoming

She returned to the health system 10 years ago this past April. That month in 2012 just happened to be when the health system built up the host of advanced treatments and care provided at the Center for Advanced Heart Care and clinics across the metro. It was serendipitous timing. She has witnessed the absolute explosion of other cardiac, thoracic and vascular services. Since she and her husband were invested in the whole enchilada, they’d watched with equal fascination the growth in cancer care, neurological advances and just about every other treatment at The University of Kansas Health System.

MacArthur believes a key step took place when the center became the first in the nation to receive Comprehensive Cardiac Center Certification from a body known as The Joint Commission. That validated the kind of teamwork that had been gaining steam since before she left for Texas.

“When we were young, we had tons of energy. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. And we were taking care of patients and families.”

Last month, the heart center hosted a commission panel charged with recertification. The team won’t know the results until it’s official, of course. But MacArthur spoke to one of the certifiers who had voted for certification the first time around.

“She told me, ‘I was here for the first. Today, I can tell you you’re second to none.’”

A heartbreaking loss and a never-ending love

This is where the heartbreak comes in. MacArthur’s beloved life partner, “Rick,” succumbed to a lengthy illness and “died peacefully on May 25th, in the arms of his loving wife of 32 years and best friend, Barbara,” as his obituary read. The tribute listed family, including 3 sons, a daughter and 2 grandchildren. “Only Rick's love for his family exceeded his love for surgery. He, Barbara, and their children ‘never got stuck in the whys.’ He never gave up hope.”

That might explain why Barbara MacArthur is so adamant not only about not focusing on the past but putting confidence squarely on the health system’s future in cardiac care.

Not exaggerating here. Thousands and thousands of patients and families have experienced lifesaving and life-changing heart treatment over the years. That’ll put a lump in anyone’s throat.

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