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.

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

Our team is hardworking, friendly and resourceful. 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 International Programs
  • Anne Betzner
    Director of Evaluation and Research
  • Walter Abramson
    Director of Leadership Giving
  • Chandra Gruber
    Director of Corporate and Foundation 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
  • Sarah Lovern
    Clinical Data and Quality Improvement Analyst
  • Ann Odens
    Finance 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. She was named president of Children’s HeartLink in 2015. She previously held leadership positions at the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation and HealthPartners, the largest consumer-governed, nonprofit health care organization in the U.S. Jackie has an M.S. in nutrition from the University of Minnesota.

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Bistra Zheleva

Vice President of International Programs

Bistra leads the direction and strategy for our international programs. She also serves on the steering committee of the International Quality Improvement Collaborative for Congenital Heart Surgery in Developing World Countries. A native of Bulgaria, Bistra has an M.B.A. 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

Director of Evaluation and Research

Anne Betzner, Ph.D., oversees the organizational strategy and implementation of program impact measurement, quality improvement and research efforts, and scientific publications. Before joining our team she served as senior research scientist at Allina Health. Prior to that she was vice president at Professional Data Analysts. Anne has a master’s degree in policy analysis and a doctorate in educational psychology, quantitative methods in education, both from the University of Minnesota.

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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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Chandra Gruber

Director of Corporate and Foundation Giving

Chandra has a wealth of experience in corporate philanthropy. She worked at St. Jude Medical for 12 years, where she last served as Senior Manager of Corporate Giving. More recently she was Senior Manager of Global Philanthropy and Corporate Giving at General Motors. Chandra has leadership experience in corporate citizenship through Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship and a vast network of peers who share her passion for this work.

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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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Sarah Lovern

Clinical Data and Quality Improvement Analyst

Sarah divides her time between Children’s HeartLink and Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, where she works as an intensive care nurse. Her first-hand experience caring for children after heart surgery equips her to offer guidance to our partners working to improve their quality of care. Sarah has an M.S. in nursing from East Carolina University.

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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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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.

Email Kate

Meet Our Board of Directors

They ask hard questions and give us the guidance we need. They’re our best ambassadors. And they regularly 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
Geoff Martha, Vice Chair
Executive Vice President and Group President, Restorative Therapies Group, Medtronic, Inc.
Susan Gebelein, Secretary
Founder and President, Savannah Consulting LLC
Jannie Herchuk, Treasurer
Audit Partner, Deloitte & Touche 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
Mary McMahon Busch
Senior Vice President Emerging Markets and Australia/New Zealand, Abbott, International Division
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
Tom Jollie
Senior Vice President, Padilla
Andrew Nelson
Senior Advisor, HealthPartners, Inc, and Senior Research Fellow HealthPartners Institute
Michael O'Leary
Office Managing Partner, Ernst & Young
Heather Hudnut Page
Medtech Consultant
Robert Rosenbaum
Partner, Corporate Group, Dorsey & Whitney LLP
Janet Schutz
Community Leader
Dannette Smith
Secretary to the Board of Directors, UnitedHealth Group Inc.
Kenneth Stein, M.D.
Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Rhythm Management and Global Health Policy, Boston Scientific
Patrick Stoneking
Attorney, Robins Kaplan LLP
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 advocates for children's health. Their expertise in global health and cardiology are matched by their compassion and passion for a more humane world.

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.
Paediatric 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
Lijing L. Yan, Ph.D., MPH
Head, NCD Research Program, Global Health Research Center, Duke Kunshan University, Kunshan, China

Our Philanthropic Partners