Generosity from the Heart

Aortic dissection survivor makes a gift to honor Hoag physician who saved his life.


When John and Sandy Knipf look back on the day of his aortic dissection in March 2011, they can remember every detail that could have made it a tragedy. But because of John’s quick instincts, Hoag’s expert team, and what they attribute to divine intervention, his health scare resulted in a gesture of gratitude that he hopes will help others.

John remembers the Wednesday vividly. He was at a gym in Anaheim doing light exercises when suddenly he felt a strong pain in his chest. He knew it wasn’t normal and decided to drive himself all the way to his preferred hospital: Hoag Hospital Newport Beach. “I got there, parked the car, walked to the emergency entrance, and my legs collapsed,” John said. “A woman walks by asking if I need help, and the last thing I remembered, I was on a gurney.”

He thought he was having a heart attack, like many others who suffer from aortic dissections. A dissection is a potentially deadly condition in which a tear happens in the inner layer of the body’s main artery. They often come on suddenly, with little warning, which could have proved disastrous for John, especially that day. “I’m a pilot, and I was supposed to fly a few of us up to Santa Maria that day for business,” he said.

John’s wife of 38 years, Sandy, received a phone call while at Bible study. She never leaves her phone on, but that day she did, and she rushed to the hospital to be with John. Fortunately for them, Dr. Anthony Caffarelli, Newkirk Family Endowed Chair in Aortic Care and Director of the Elaine & Robert Matranga Aortic Center, was already in the building to perform another procedure. “He came out and explained the surgery to me,” Sandy said. “A family member of the other patient Dr. Caffarelli was treating told me he was the best.” Sandy called some friends who came to wait with her during the nine-hour procedure. It became more apparent to Sandy after John’s dissection how dangerous they are. People who’ve lost family members have told her how lucky John is. “We are so eternally grateful to Dr. Caffarelli,” Sandy said. “We owe John’s life to him.”

Because of this life-changing experience and the gratitude they feel for Dr. Caffarelli, the Knipfs recently made a $1,000,000 estate gift to support cardiac care at Hoag’s Jeffrey M. Carlton Heart & Vascular Institute. Their generosity will be recognized with the John & Sandy Knipf Catheterization Lab, one of the institute’s state-of-the-art spaces where physicians can diagnose or treat heart conditions. “I’m hoping this gift will help save some lives,” John said.

He continues to see Dr. Caffarelli to monitor an aneurysm he has in his descending aorta. Otherwise, he and Sandy continue their adventurous streak. Their life’s passion has been traveling across the globe. “John is going strong,” Sandy said. “Hoag saved his life, and we want to make sure we give back.”

Learn more about Gift Planning at Hoag.

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