When Conrad Prebys was a young boy growing up in Indiana he stepped on a rusty belt buckle, which resulted in a life-threatening cardiac infection that forced him to remain bedridden for a year. Now, years later and having accrued a significant personal fortune, the noted San Diego developer and philanthropist is fighting back against the disease that almost ended his life by donating $45 million to help create the most advanced cardiac center on the West Coast.
Prebys’ donation — the largest in the history of Scripps Health and the largest he has ever made — is dedicated for Scripps Cardiovascular Institute. The Institute is the cornerstone of a 25-year master plan that will transform the Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla campus and redefine health care in San Diego for the 21st Century. In recognition of Prebys’ $45 million gift, the new acute care hospital tower will be named the Prebys Cardiovascular Institute.
“That experience from my childhood never left me,” Prebys said. “Now here I am, part of what will be the best heart care center there is, with the greats of the medical world, research and innovation that will help mankind. There’s nothing like being part of the best. That’s how I feel about this institute.”
The Prebys Cardiovascular Institute will integrate the highly respected cardiovascular programs throughout the Scripps Health system and Kaiser Permanente. The Institute will build on a legacy of Scripps breakthroughs in pioneering surgical procedures, landmark studies, genomic medicine and wireless technology to provide the most advanced treatment options available to patients with cardiovascular diseases. Every year, more than 55,000 patients receive their cardiovascular care from Scripps, making it the largest heart care provider in the region. And Scripps is the only cardiovascular program in the region consistently recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the best in the country.
“Conrad Prebys’ ongoing generosity to Scripps Health and the entire San Diego community is reminiscent of the same spirit of philanthropy established by Ellen Browning Scripps when she founded Scripps Memorial Hospital and Scripps Metabolic Clinic 87 years ago,” said Scripps President and CEO Chris Van Gorder. “This donation will further Miss Ellen’s legacy by helping build a center for innovation that will bring together leading physicians and premier cardiovascular services to provide the best in heart care for all of San Diego and beyond well into the future.”
The $456 million Prebys Cardiovascular Institute is scheduled to open for patient care in 2015. The seven-story, 383,000-square-foot building will feature108 inpatient beds in private rooms, 60 intensive care beds, six state-of-the-art operating rooms, and as many as six cardiac catheterization labs with the most advanced medical technology. Prebys is president of Progress Construction and Management Company, a real estate and development company that he founded in 1966.
A native of South Bend, Indiana, Prebys was raised in a working-class neighborhood where most of the residents graduated high school and then went on to work in local factories. An inspirational teacher encouraged him to further his education and he was the first of five brothers to attend and graduate from Indiana University. He operated a pizzeria near the University of Notre Dame for several years before moving to San Diego and getting into the real estate business. He tells friends that he had less than $500 and the clothes on his back when he moved here.
Now a resident of Point Loma, Prebys has supported his community by making generous gifts to organizations such as the San Diego Zoo, Boys and Girls Clubs of East County, the San Diego Opera and the Old Globe. In 2006, Prebys made a $10 million gift to Scripps Mercy Hospital to enhance and expand emergency and trauma services at that facility.
“I’ve embraced Andrew Carnegie’s philosophy that excess wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community,” said Prebys. "I’m thrilled to contribute to Scripps’ vision to build the world’s finest cardiovascular institute right here in San Diego—a destination for heart patients everywhere.”
Established on Prospect Street in downtown La Jolla in 1924 through the vision of Ellen
Browning Scripps, Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla moved to its current location in 1964.
Today, the hospital provides care to more than 140,000 patients annually, is equipped with 389 beds, and has more than 2,400 employees and approximately 900 affiliated physicians.
Philanthropy has continued to play an important role in Scripps La Jolla’s growth. The hospital expansion will be financed by operating revenues, borrowing and community support. Including Prebys’ donation, $80 million in philanthropic gifts have been raised toward the $125 million fundraising goal.
“Community support always has been a significant part of Scripps history,” said John Engle, Scripps corporate senior vice president and chief development officer. ”We are thankful for that. It’s the generosity of donors like Conrad Prebys and others that has made us what we are today, and it will be that generosity that will shape us into who we become in the future.”
The Prebys Cardiovascular Institute and the overall Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla
expansion are part of improvements being made throughout the Scripps Health system.
Projects include a new emergency department and critical care building, medical office building and parking structure at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas; the new Conrad Prebys Emergency and Trauma Center, a new parking structure and central energy plant at Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego; the new Scripps Proton Therapy Center and the Scripps Radiation Therapy Center. Other facility improvements include seismic upgrades and investment in new information technology.