Behind a Big Knight Gift: A Three-Pronged Approach to Heart Care in Portland

You might not think that Portland, Oregon, would have much need for heart care technologies, what with all its kale smoothies and wellness retreats and kombucha slime whatnots. Wouldn’t, say, Kansas City, or Houston or Birmingham be a better spot to start driving systemic heart care change? Lord knows the well-upholstered citizens of the South have greater need for those kinds of services than their Pacific Northwest hipster counterparts.

But people suffer from heart problems everywhere, and a creative idea incubator like Portland is a good place to experiment with new solutions. Oh, and one other thing: Phil and Penny Knight, the founders of Nike, live there.

Their $25 million gift to build three cardiac care centers at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center seems straightforward enough, but these aren’t going to be your average care centers. One is what you might expect: a center for cardiac specialty care for successfully treating those in the midst of cardiac illness.

The second center will be devoted to research and innovation: specifically, making strides in cardiac clinical care and undertaking integrative trials.

The third center is where Portland’s flavor really starts to become apparent: The third center will be devoted to prevention and wellness. Can’t you just see a Portlandia spoof of the place? Advanced cardio care in the form of meditation, positive visualizations, and alfalfa salads? We see it. We wonder if it’s what Knight has in mind with this gift—perhaps yes, perhaps no—and we feel as though it may inevitably trend in that direction. It is in Portland, after all.

Phil and Penny Knight have given generously to Providence St. Vincent for many years. Medical research, alongside sports and education, is a top interest of theirs, and they haven’t been shy about supporting it. In recent years, it seems their attention has turned specifically toward advancing cardiovascular research. In 2012, the Knights gave Oregon Health & Science University $125 million to establish the Knight Cardiovascular Institute.

We don’t need to tell you that it makes sense that athletics equipment pioneers like the Knights would be into cardio, do we?

Once these centers get under way, it will be interesting to see if they really succeed in creating the heart-friendly culture the Knights envision.