Through his nonprofit, Cary man helps fund innovation in heart care

aspecht@newsobserver.comFebruary 5, 2014 

Dan Matthys, bottom, went skydiving in 2009, three years after undergoing an innovative heart-valve replacement procedure.

AARON FIGEL — Courtesy of Dan Matthys

  • How to help

    The second annual Cardiac Innovation Invitational Golf Tournament for nonprofit Advancing the Heart will be Sept. 22 at Hasentree Golf Course in Wake Forest.

    For more information, visit or contact Sheila Ryba at 919-830-5146 or

— Dan Matthys thought he might die if he had to go through another open-heart surgery.

It was 2006 and Matthys, a Cary town planner who has a congenital heart defect, needed another valve replacement.

When he was 18, he barely survived the most recent of his six prior open-heart surgeries. He went into cardiac arrest, nearly bled to death and contracted an infection that prompted doctors to leave his chest open after the surgery was completed.

“At one point, doctors told my family they would need to say their final goodbyes,” said Matthys, 41.

He couldn’t imagine putting his wife or two children through that.

Fortunately, he qualified for a medical trial for a transcatheter pulmonary valve replacement procedure, in which doctors replaced his valve through his leg.

It worked.

Now Matthys is healthy, active and poised to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to help fund the types of cardiac research that saved his life.

He founded Advancing the Heart, a nonprofit that has been raising money since its inception two years ago.

Until last month, the organization needed third parties to help raise money because it didn’t have a solicitation license from the N.C. Secretary of State. That changed on Jan. 27.

The group now hopes to quadruple the $15,000 it raised during its charity golf tournament last year, and Matthys thinks he’s assembled the team to get the job done.

Former Carolina Hurricanes player Jesse Boulerice, now a financial adviser with Merrill Lynch, is on the organization’s board of directors.

Boulerice joined the cause after meeting Matthys following the golf tournament.

“When he was telling me his goals, I knew I wanted to help in any way I could,” Boulerice said. “It was important to me that he’s putting funding toward education.”

The most skilled doctors aren’t always prepared enough to perform the latest innovative heart procedures. Donations to Advancing the Heart pay for training.

Sheila Ryba, an experienced nonprofit consultant, is running the group until it grows big enough to hire a full-time CEO.

“We’re moving from a well-meaning mom-and-pop nonprofit to a professionally run organization,” Ryba said.

The cause is personal for Ryba. Her father survived two open-heart surgeries, and she is inspired by Matthys’s optimism.

“He’s had all of these challenges and is still able to stay positive and live his life to the fullest,” Ryba said. “You want to see more people like him.”

Matthys underwent his first open-heart surgery when he was 3 months old.

It was enough to keep him alive, but his congenital heart defect required countless trips to a children’s hospital in Houston.

He had to sit on the sidelines in gym class and wear a chest protector during his one season of youth T-ball.

So it’s no surprise he met his first friends in the hospital. Some of them didn’t make it.

He chooses to stay positive, because the alternative is worse. His organization will be a success, he says, if it spares just one person from the type of pain he went through.

“Growing up and watching friends die and almost dying myself, I know it can end at any time, so I try to enjoy every moment,” Matthys said.

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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