Renowned Cardiologist and Former Longhorn Swimmer, James T. Willerson, Dies

by Elizabeth Levy 2

September 20th, 2020 Big 12, College, News

James T. Willerson, the President Emeritus of the Texas Heart Institute (THI), and a former swimmer at the University of Texas, has died.

Eric Wade, the Chair of the Board of Trustees at THI, made the following statement in regards to Willerson’s passing:

“While his passing is a tremendous loss, Dr. Willerson’s indelible legacy will live on in perpetuity through his countless achievements in cardiovascular research and philanthropy, the passion that he poured into everything he accomplished throughout his life, and the immeasurable impact he made on the evolution of a world-renowned organization recognized in all corners of the globe. Dr. Willerson lived a tremendous life defined by curiosity and an eternally burning flame for the study of the human heart and its myriad complexities, and on behalf of the Texas Heart Institute Board of Trustees, it is with a heavy heart that I share the news of his passing.”

Dr. Willerson made critical contributions to cardiovascular disease research. His area of research focused on identifying and treating unstable atherosclerotic plaques in the heart. He also played a key role in discovering new genes and abnormal proteins that cause cardiovascular disease.

A native of San Antonio, Texas, Dr. Willerson attended high school at the Texas Military Academy (TMI), where he was a 5-time state champion in swimming at one of the state’s private school championship meets (TAPPS).

He then attended college at UT-Austin on a swimming scholarship, where he was a three-year letter-winner (1959-1961) and pre-med student. His athletic accomplishments at UT-Austin led to a swimming scholarship being named in his honor there. In 2009 he was also inducted into the UT Men’s Athletics Hall of Honor.

Dr. Willerson began his accomplished career in medicine as an AOA graduate of Baylor College of Medicine. He also attended Harvard Medical School and Mass General Hospital in Boston for his postgrad medical training. At the THI, Dr. Willerson held titles as President Emeritus, Director of Cardiology Research, and Co-Director of the Cullen Cardiovascular Research Laboratories.

Other appointments include the former president of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. In 2017, UT Austin named its top cardiovascular research center at the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences in his name.

You can read the THI’s full obituary on Dr. Willerson here.

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Douglas Boyd
1 month ago

God Speed Dr. W

I will always remember you as the one who saved my swimmer Katie Scholl’s life when you discovered a rare heart ailment that showed itself in competition only at Rice University…. Katie Scholl and I are forever in your debt.

Ol' Longhorn
1 month ago

A true legend. Still practicing medicine up to his death. Tireless worker, who when he said he wanted to meet you at 12, you didn’t know if it was noon or midnight. Many times saw him passing through the CCU in the wee hours of the night checking on his patients — when he was in his late 60’s and president of a major health science center. Called me to offer condolences the second he heard my mother died. Would come in Saturdays to take morning report from the residents a decade after he was chair of medicine. In his earlier days, would race the residents in a 25 free, and usually won. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.… Read more »