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When the Pepin Heart Hospital opened its own freestanding home in 2006, part of it wasn't ready for patients.

Construction on the $50 million project started in early 2004, only to be interrupted by a busy hurricane season. Then the price of concrete and structural steel skyrocketed.

The result: Administrators had to leave part of the third floor unfinished.

So the eight beds in the hospital's coronary care unit remained next door, on the fourth floor of University Community Hospital.

Now, thanks to a $2 million gift announced last week by the Pepin Family Foundation, that unit can be set up where its administrators had planned all along.

Administrators at the 100-bed hospital - officially known as the Pepin Heart Hospital & Dr. Kiran C. Patel Research Institute - aim to move the coronary care unit from UCH into their hospital in the next 12 to 15 months.

That will allow doctors and nurses to provide a better continuity of care and will minimize the moves patients have to make, Pepin Heart Hospital chief executive officer Brigitte Shaw said.

Because the unit's future home is much bigger than its current one, patients' rooms will have more space for family members to stay with their loved ones comfortably, even overnight if necessary.

"It'll make it much easier for our families and our physicians, too," Shaw said.

The hospital's history goes back to 1989.

The late Art Pepin, the founder of Pepin Distributing, pledged $1 million to create a heart and vascular institute at UCH after he had to travel 500 miles from home for a heart transplant. In 2003, his son, Tom Pepin, earmarked another $3 million to break ground for the hospital's new home.

At an announcement of the family's $2 million gift on Sept. 10, Gov. Charlie Crist praised the Pepins for supporting the hospital.

"It's easy to start something," Crist said. "It takes tenacity to stick with it and stay on it and see it through."

Tom Pepin said the hospital, with a dual focus on research and clinical care, has joined the "big leagues."

He touted the hospital's role in a stem cell research effort funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health. In that study, Pepin Heart Hospital is the anchor for research into using bone marrow stem cells to regenerate heart muscle tissue. Also involved are the University of Florida and the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute.

Another multiyear study has teamed Pepin with the Yale School of Medicine to look at young heart attack victims.

"Our mission has been to be the Moffitt of cardiac care," Pepin said. "Pepin Heart Hospital is going to be that someday."

Richard Danielson can be reached at or (813) 226-3403.

fast facts

Pepin Heart Hospital

Established: 1989

Cardiac catheterizations: 100,000

Angioplasties: 76,000

Vascular surgeries: 15,000

Open-heart surgeries: 11,000