Our Mission

To save the lives of children with heart disease, we partner with organizations to train medical teams, provide education and transform health care in underserved parts of the world.

Our Vision

Children around the world have access to high-quality heart care.

We got our start in 1969, when a young doctor serving in Vietnam asked his father in Minnesota to perform lifesaving surgery on Vietnamese children with heart disease.

Children’s HeartLink has thrived in Minnesota, a world leader in heart surgery, medical device development and global philanthropy.

We were once a medical mission organization. Now we train local medical teams in the countries where we work, making it possible for children to be treated in their own country. This is how we make a lasting impact.

Our approach has changed over the years but our commitment to helping children with heart disease has never wavered.

Meet Our Staff

We share a passion for making high-quality care a reality for more kids with heart disease.

  • Jackie Boucher

    President

  • Bistra Zheleva

    Vice President of Global Strategy and Advocacy

  • Anne Betzner

    Vice President of Programs and Evaluation

  • Wade Jones

    Director of Operations

  • Walter Abramson

    Director of Leadership Giving

  • Faith Adams

    Communications Director

  • Barb Simonson

    Finance Director

  • Andreas Tsakistos

    Country Director

  • Adriana Dobrzycka

    Country Director

  • Bobbi Morris

    Events Manager

  • Veeralakshmi Rajasekhar

    In-Country India Consultant

  • Rajashree Panicker

    Monitoring and Evaluation Consultant

  • Ann Odens

    Finance Specialist

  • Zhanna Petersen

    Marketing Services Specialist

  • Courtney Geolat

    International Programs Assistant

  • Aleta Nimlos

    Executive Assistant

  • Kate Grzywacz

    Project Management Specialist

Jackie Boucher

President

Jackie has a passion for improving lives and has spent her entire career in health care, with a special focus on population health. She was named president of Children’s HeartLink in 2015. She previously held leadership positions at the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, where she was chief operating officer and institutional officer for research, and led its Hearts Beat Back program, and at HealthPartners, the largest consumer-governed, nonprofit health care organization in the U.S. A registered dietitian, Jackie has served on the American Diabetes Association (ADA) Board of Directors. She served as editor-in-chief of Diabetes Spectrum and received the Outstanding Educator in Diabetes Award from the ADA in 2018. Jackie has an M.S. in nutrition from the University of Minnesota.

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Bistra Zheleva

Vice President of Global Strategy and Advocacy

Bistra leads our global thought leadership strategy with governments and international development institutions, and she leads our country-level growth. She has worked at Children’s HeartLink since 2003 and is a passionate advocate of improving access to care for children who need pediatric cardiac services. She serves on the boards of Global Alliance for Rheumatic and Congenital Hearts, and One Heart Health. She is also a member of the steering committee of the International Quality Improvement Collaborative, a global initiative aimed at improving cardiac care for children in low- and middle-income countries. A native of Bulgaria, Bistra has an MBA in nonprofit management from the University of St. Thomas and has studied global health at the Harvard School of Public Health.

 

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Anne Betzner

Vice President of Programs and Evaluation

Anne Betzner, Ph.D., oversees program development and standardization, program impact measurement, quality improvement and research efforts. Anne likes working with systems and using stories and hard statistics to improve performance for social betterment. Before joining our team she served as senior research scientist at Allina Health and was vice president for a research and evaluation firm. Anne has a master’s degree in policy analysis and a doctorate in research methods from the University of Minnesota. Anne loves serving her community through volunteering with The Martha Ripley Memorial Foundation, The Humphrey School of Public Affairs Alumni Board, The University of Minnesota Alumni Association Collegiate Council and her church.

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Wade Jones

Director of Operations

Wade is responsible for the development and oversight of our administrative and financial systems, including finances, accounting, grants management, information technology, human resources, risk and legal management, internal control and physical infrastructure. Wade joined Children’s HeartLink after 17 years at Medtronic, including 5 years working for the Medtronic Foundation, most recently as operations lead. At Medtronic he also served as a senior program manager in global finance training and development, and worked in its largest business unit, CRDM (Cardiac Rhythm Disease Management). Putting his skills to use for a small nonprofit organization that has a mission that aligns with his personal mission has been a goal of Wade’s for many years. Wade has served on several local boards, and he has an MBA in Finance from the University of Kansas.

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Walter Abramson

Director of Leadership Giving

Wally advances our mission through charitable giving from individuals and families. He cares deeply about connecting with people who are passionate about saving the lives of children with heart disease. Wally has worked in fundraising for 25 years, for the United Negro College Fund and Minnesota Land Trust, among others. He joined our team in 2015.

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Faith Adams

Communications Director

Faith has worked in marketing communications her entire career, primarily in the medical and health care field. She worked at the University of Minnesota Foundation after a career as a consultant and writer working with a diverse group of nonprofit and for-profit clients. Health equity is a cause she cares deeply about.

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Barb Simonson

Finance Director

Barb believes that providing sound financial management and advice strengthens organizations like ours, and she gets great satisfaction from helping us do a world of good. An independent consultant and an expert in nonprofit finance, Barb advises many nonprofit organizations in addition to Children’s HeartLink.

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Andreas Tsakistos

Country Director

Andreas leads our programs in Brazil, China and Malaysia. Before joining our team in 2006 he worked with humanitarian aid programs in sub-Saharan Africa. He has a master’s degree from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Andreas has had wanderlust since he was a child, when he moved with his family from London to Nairobi and points in between.

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Adriana Dobrzycka

Country Director

Adriana leads our programs in India and Vietnam. Earlier in her career she worked for organizations focused on human rights, cultural competency and engaging diverse communities. Adriana has a Polish father and an Italian mother and was raised in Warsaw and Florence. She has master’s degrees in international development and public health from the University of Pittsburgh.

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Bobbi Morris

Events Manager

Bobbi is happiest when she’s planning and producing fundraising events, conferences and meetings. She’s been doing this work for a variety of organizations for 25 years. Bobbi leads the strategy and execution of our large annual fundraising event, HeartLink Gala.

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Veeralakshmi Rajasekhar

In-Country India Consultant

Based in Coimbatore, Veera is a consummate connector and trusted colleague who develops and strengthens relationships with our program partners in India. She has worked as a social work educator and practitioner, and she has a postgraduate degree in social work from the University of Madras and a predoctoral degree in psychiatric social work from NIMHANS in Bangalore.

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Rajashree Panicker

Monitoring and Evaluation Consultant

Rajie assesses and reports on the impact of our pediatric cardiac programs in the developing world. Based in Coimbatore, India, she has worked with the Public Health Foundation of India and Karnataka Health Promotion. She has an MPH degree from The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where she specialized in international health systems and health priorities.

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Ann Odens

Finance Specialist

Ann supports our vendor relationships related to finance and assists with budgeting, restricted grants, payroll, accounts payable and other key finance functions. She was previously our international programs assistant. Earlier in her career she worked as a Spanish teacher.

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Zhanna Petersen

Marketing Services Specialist

Zhanna brings both professional and personal experience to her communications position at Children’s HeartLink. Being a parent of a child with heart disease, Zhanna is passionate about making high-quality medical care a reality for more families around the world. A native of Russia, she has taught English as a second language and worked as a freelance writer. She worked at a news agency in Moscow before she met her husband and moved to Minnesota, where she earned a master’s degree in strategic communication from the University of Minnesota. 

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Courtney Geolat

International Programs Assistant

Courtney came to Children’s HeartLink from Nacel Open Door, where she was a travel coordinator assisting international exchange students. She is passionate about other cultures and spent time in the Philippines working with at-risk girls.

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Aleta Nimlos

Executive Assistant

Aleta has a deep and abiding interest in other cultures. She earned her master’s degree from the University of Minnesota in Spanish Trans-Atlantic History, focusing her thesis on the history of smallpox in Peru as part of her emphasis on the Early Modern History of Medicine. She has served as an organizational liaison to the Consulate of Mexico, and came to Children’s HeartLink most recently from Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities.

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Kate Grzywacz

Project Management Specialist

Kate oversees IT strategy, office redesign and other special projects. Kate grew up in Poland and moved to Minneapolis with her family when her physician husband accepted a medical research position. She has an M.A. in German studies.

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Meet Our Board of Directors

They ask hard questions and give us the guidance we need. They’re our best ambassadors and go above and beyond to support our ambitious goals.

Officers
Joseph Kiser, M.D., Founder
Jackie Boucher, President
Children's HeartLink
John Finnegan, Ph.D., Chair
Professor and Dean, University of Minnesota School of Public Health
Heather Hudnut Page, Vice Chair
Vice President of Strategy and Marketing, Philips Healthcare
Dannette Smith, Secretary
Secretary to the Board of Directors, UnitedHealth Group Inc.
Patrick Stoneking, Treasurer
Attorney, Robins Kaplan LLP
Joseph Dearani, M.D., Medical Director
Chair of the Division of Cardiovascular Surgery, Mayo Clinic and Professor of Surgery, Mayo College of Medicine
David Overman, M.D., Medical Director
Cardiovascular Surgeon and Chief, Division of Cardiovascular Surgery, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota
Directors
Guillaume Bastiaens
Cargill, Retired
Jeff Evanson
Managing Director and MedTech Practice Lead, Life Science Practice, Navigant
Jeff Haan
Audit Partner and Professional Practice Partner, KPMG’s Northern Heartland Business Unit
Jannie Herchuk
Audit Partner, Deloitte & Touche LLP
Tom Jollie
Senior Vice President, Padilla
Geoff Martha
Executive Vice President and Group President, Restorative Therapies Group, Medtronic, Inc.
Andrew Nelson
Senior Advisor, HealthPartners, Inc, and Senior Research Fellow HealthPartners Institute
Michael O'Leary
Office Managing Partner, Ernst & Young
Robert Rosenbaum
Partner, Corporate Group, Dorsey & Whitney LLP
Janet Schutz
Community Leader
Kenneth Stein, M.D.
Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Rhythm Management and Global Health Policy, Boston Scientific
Elizabeth Sweeney
Children's HeartLink, Retired
Directors Emeriti
David Andreas
Community Leader
Thomas A. Keller III
Principal, Gray Plant Mooty

Meet Our International Advisory Board

They are experts in global health and advocates for children's health, and we benefit from their advice and expertise.

James A. Rice, Ph.D., Chair
Managing Director & Practice Leader, Governance & Leadership, Gallagher Integrated
Aldo Castañeda, M.D., Ph.D.
Founder, Pediatric Cardiac Surgical Unit of Guatemala; Professor Emeritus of Surgery, Harvard Medical School
Christopher Hugo-Hamman, M.D.
Pediatric and Congenital Cardiologist, Windhoek Central Hospital, Ministry of Health and Human Services, Namibia; Roman Catholic Hospital, Windhoek, Namibia
Kathy Jenkins, M.D., MPH
Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School; Executive Director, Center for Applied Pediatric Quality Analytics
Molly Joseph
CEO, UnitedHealthcare Global and Executive Vice President of Global Health, UnitedHealthGroup
Srinath Reddy, M.D.
President, Public Health Foundation of India
Kate Tulenko, M.D., MPH, MPhil, FAAP
CEO, Corvus Health
Lijing L. Yan, Ph.D., MPH
Head, NCD Research Program, Global Health Research Center, Duke Kunshan University, Kunshan, China

Our Philanthropic Partners