- The Washington Times - Monday, December 19, 2005

A relationship that developed years ago over tennis paid off handsomely for the University of Maryland at College Park, with the announcement yesterday that an inventor of medical devices plans to give the school $30 million to study bioengineering.

Robert E. Fischell’s donation will help the university start a department in the A. James Clark School of Engineering and a biomedical device institute where students and scientists will work on medical tools to treat and prevent ailments.

Mr. Fischell, 76, who received a master’s degree in physics from Maryland, has long had ties to the university — serving on the school foundation’s board of trustees and funding a regular lecture series and fellowship.

But his connection to the administration also was forged during the late 1960s, when by chance Mr. Fischell played regular tennis matches with William E. Kirwan, then an assistant professor of mathematics at a YMCA in Silver Spring.

Mr. Fischell, at the time a scientist at a Navy laboratory, went on to invent medical devices such as the stent used in heart surgery.

He holds more than 200 patents and has formed more than a half-dozen biomedical companies with his three sons.

Mr. Kirwan eventually became the University of Maryland’s president and is the chancellor of the state university system.

At a ceremony marking Mr. Fischell’s donation yesterday, Mr. Kirwan said he has gone from “admiring Bob’s forehand” to respecting Mr. Fischell’s work on tools that can be used to treat heart disease, migraines, epilepsy and other conditions.

“What a difference he has made in the lives of so many people,” Mr. Kirwan said.

Mr. Fischell’s gift is one of the largest received by Maryland and the third $30 million donation to the university this year.

It also helped boost fiscal 2005 private donation figure to $121 million, well above the 2004 figure of $85.7 million.

The new undergraduate bioengineering program at Maryland is expected to begin admitting students in the fall.

The engineering school plans to build an addition onto its new building, which should be finished this summer, to accommodate the program.

Mr. Fischell and his sons, who also are making a $1 million donation, displayed some of their medical products yesterday.

They included an implanted heart monitor that checks for signs of an impending attack and a small device placed in an epileptic’s skull that senses and blocks seizures.

“What greater use is there for engineering and science than to make people better,” Mr. Fischell said of his work.

He is perhaps best known for his work on the stent, a mesh tube that acts like scaffolding when inserted into blocked or clogged arteries, keeping them open and preventing heart attacks.

Mr. Fischell estimates that the flexible stent he created is used in a million patients every year.

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