Near to My Heart: William K. Nasser, MD
The groundbreaking ceremony for the proposed William Nasser Healthcare Education and Simulation Center at St. Vincent Indianapolis Hospital was held on Mar. 16. I was there to witness a very important and well-deserved event. Few men in my long not-for-profit executive career have touched my soul like William K. Nasser, MD. He was a very unique individual who was near to my heart.
He was a cardiologist for St. Vincent Hospital and Health Services in Indianapolis for many years until his passing in 2005. St. Vincent is a major part of Ascension Health, a faith-based health-care organization. It is a direct subsidiary of Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system. In fiscal year 2014, Ascension provided $1.8 billion in care of persons living in poverty and other community benefit programs. The system has 131 hospitals located across the country.
Nasser was born during the Great Depression in Terre Haute, Ind. His father was an owner of a grocery store and came to America for a better life from Syria. While in college, Nasser was drafted for the Korean Conflict. He was a very religious man whose love for family was tremendous. He had open-heart surgery at the age of 26 and received a new aortic heart valve. The experience of fighting to stay alive at a young age through heart-related issues pushed him toward a career in cardiology.
Nasser helped to defray some of the expenses of medical school. He graduated from the Indiana University Medical School. He was offered a position at St. Vincent to build a heart program and throughout the last several decades, this nationally recognized heart program grew to one that served more than 142,000 heart patients in 2015 alone. His work in medicine to build the cardiology program was legendary. He had the unique ability to have a combination of exceptional technical skills, marketing acumen and community-relation talents. He always seemed to be three steps ahead of the competition.
In the later years of Nasser’s work with St. Vincent, he served on the St. Vincent Hospital Foundation’s board of directors both as a board member and as a chair of the board. He helped promote programs that generated millions of dollars annually. His national reputation was acknowledged by many including the late Casey Kasem, nationally known American radio personality who was among other activities, the host of the weekly radio show American Top 40 for many years. I was fortunate to have interacted with him for a time on the sole topic of Nasser.
Kasem’s family roots were also from Syria. He was constantly interested in promoting successful Arab Americans. I never told Kasem, but in 1901, when my grandfather was 16 years old, he and his brother came to the U.S. from Syria. He could not speak English, but also had a dream of a better life. As an inspiration to others, Nasser published his book titled “Near to My Heart: An American Dream.”
I was there at the dinner when the book idea was discussed and when the book was published. He personally gave hundreds of copies to an array of nonprofits to sell with the proceeds going to their own entities. It was an inspirational story of one man’s refusal to let life’s roadblocks get in his way. The book also includes the time Nasser’s boat sank in the Florida Keys 7 miles from shore and he had to swim for 16 hours in freezing water to survive. He was saved through the efforts of his sons, Tony, a cardiologist; Tom, an endodontist; and nephew Bill Radez, an attorney.
While working with Nasser at St. Vincent, much was accomplished to generate resources for physicians, nurses and staff.
Some of these successes included:
- Creation of a new physician recognition wall.
- Establishment of a new physician servant leadership award dinner to recognize service.
- Recruitment of many new physicians on the foundation’s board.
- Launch of a new physician society.
- Creation of a $1 million continuing education nursing and $1 million cardiology endowment funds.
- Investment in both major gifts and planned gifts by physicians.
- Development of a new patient-relations program.
The list of successes went on and on. Nasser helped take the St. Vincent Hospital Foundation to a new level of success in the community. While small in physician stature, he was large in his presence. He would never ask why, instead asked why not? As vice president for development and executive director of the foundation, I experienced the daily joy in working closely with a legend. As an individual that truly believes in medical education, medical research and service to the community, I was thrilled to learn of a new health care education and simulation center in his name that would continue to promote his interests. In addition, his wife Wanda continues to play an important philanthropic leadership role in the Nasser tradition as a member of the St. Vincent Hospital Foundation’s board of directors.
If you make a career in the nonprofit sector, you will live for moments that will burn in your memory forever. When I look back on my work career, I will not care about how much money I helped raise. I will care about the memories of those I was fortunate to work with that made a lasting impact on other’s lives. Nasser saved and supported countless lives, and his new center will continue to promote his personal mission for years to come. Thank you “Doctor Doctor”, for a life well lived. You will always be near to my heart.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last nine years and has had the CFRE designation for the last 25 years. He has also been a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals for over 35 years. He received his doctorate from West Virginia University with an emphasis in philanthropy, masters from Marshall University with an emphasis on resource development and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with emphasis in marketing/management. Currently he is executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division. Contact Duke at email@example.com.