Heart-warming wedding gift funds cardiovascular medicine research

Dr. Peter Rahko

Photo caption: Through the generosity of Tom and Lynne Graf, who requested that wedding guests contribute philanthropic gifts in lieu of presents at their wedding, research in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine will receive additional support. Above, Dr. Peter Rahko analyzes an echocardiogram. (Credit: Clint Thayer/Department of Medicine)

On August 19, 2017, the wedding of Tom and Lynne (Roe) Graf of Mendota Heights, Minnesota was celebrated with much joy by family and friends. It was also accompanied by an unusual request from the wedding couple: instead of traditional gifts, the Grafs asked guests to make a charitable gift to support cardiovascular research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

Tom and Lynne’s intent was to honor several loved ones whose lives have been affected by cardiovascular conditions. “A dear family friend of ours who now is in his 50s was given a pig valve at the age of four while at University Hospital,” said Lynne. The original valve sustained him for 50 years and was only recently replaced by a new valve. 

“His heart condition has impacted his life in so many ways and yet he continues to thrive and make the most of it. He has a positive outlook ALL the time, he never gives up and he just loves life. He is a man who truly 'lives' each and every day to the fullest — none of which would have been possible without the original surgeries he had at age 4 and 8 at the University Hospital in Madison. For that, Tom and I are truly grateful and we wanted to honor the life of this special friend through these donations,” said Lynne.

The couple also requested the gifts in memory of Lynne’s stepfather and Tom’s father, each of whom died of a heart attack in their 40s, as well as several other family members who are presently living with a range of heart conditions. 

"For all of these special people, again, the cardiovascular medicine donation seemed to be a way to honor them and their lives," explained Lynne.

Donations from wedding attendees were directed to the Excellence in Cardiovascular Research Fund, which is a “callable” fund—meaning that every dollar given to this fund is made available for use by the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine in the Department of Medicine. “I hope our donation can help to support some amazing tests and studies,” said Lynne. At the time of publication, more than $2,000 had been raised. 

The gift also provided an opportunity for Badgers and Gophers to come together towards a common goal. Tom shared, “Even though I am a Golden Gopher at heart, I do believe in what you are doing for the Big Red Machine in Madison!”

And for Lynne—an alumna of UW-Madison and born and raised in Wisconsin—supporting the Badgers was deeply meaningful. “I love Wisconsin and my many family and friends that live there and I will always be a huge Badger fan. What better way to honor my alma mater and so many loved family and friends, all at the same time,” she said.