Dr. Manny Villafaña: The Living Legend of Medicine

With over 50 years of medtech innovation and 7 IPOs under his belt, Manny Villafaña, Ph.D.Sc. has revolutionized the medical device industry time and time again.

An Unstoppable Force

“You must take risks — the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.”

Manny Villafaña, Ph.D.Sc.

The Definition of the American Dream

Raised in the South Bronx, NY by Puerto Rican immigrant parents, Manny’s story is one of perseverance and a limitless work ethic — the embodiment of the American Dream.

After the early passing of his father and brothers, Manny was raised solely by his mother. He started working at the Kips Bay Boys’ & Girls’ Club at the age of nine, with all his earnings going to helping his mother pay for their home and his school.

With nothing but a high school diploma and an unwavering determination for a brighter future, Manny began his career at Picker International in 1964 as a sales representative and quickly rose to handling high-profile accounts like Medtronic.

By 1967, he was working for Medtronic as its first international sales administrator for the cardiac pacemaker. Manny was in the room with surgeons who implanted pacemakers for the first time, teaching doctors and surgeons about the pacemaker technology. After moving to Argentina a few years later, he expanded Medtronic’s market size substantially.

Having lost his mother, father, and brothers to heart disease, advancing cardiac devices and saving as many lives as possible was his driving force for innovation and success.

A Master Entrepreneur: 7 IPOs & Millions of Lives Saved

Manny loved, lived, and breathed the pacemaker, but he knew it needed improvements. The pacemakers at the time would only last roughly 18 months before needing replacement. Manny knew there had to be a way to give them a longer life — at least 10 years. Being told it was an impossible feat didn’t stop him; he has always had a fire to do the impossible. Manny believes the greatest pleasure in life is doing the things that people say can not be done.


Founder of Cardiac Pacemakers, Inc. (CPI)

Co-inventor of the first long-life lithium-powered pacemakers and defibrillators.
Manny developed pacemakers that lasted 30–40 years.
His technology is used in nearly every pacemaker & defibrillator in the world.
A minimum investment of $10,000 in CPI in 1972 would be worth millions today.

CPI was bought by Boston Scientific for $27 billion.


Founder of St. Jude Medical

Developed the St. Jude Heart Valve — a bi-leaflet artificial heart valve.
It became the “gold standard” of heart valves.
The most commonly used prosthesis in the world; about 5 million patients have the implant.
A minimum investment of $16,500 in St. Jude Medical in 1976 would be worth millions today.

St. Jude Medical was bought by Abbott Medical of Chicago for $30 billion in 2016.


Founder of ATS Medical

Developed the next-generation ATS heart valve, which is still used in cardiac surgeries over 30 years later.

Medtronic purchased the publicly traded ATS Medical in 2010 for $400 million.


Founder of Medical 21

Co-inventor of the MAVERICS graft — a graft system designed to replace blood vessel harvesting in cardiac bypass surgery.
Cardiac bypass surgery has not been advanced in over 50 years.
Many companies have tried to create a biocompatible, small-diameter graft and have failed.
Doing the impossible is synonymous with the Villafaña name, however.

Honoring a Legend

1985 Cardinal Hayes High School Hall of Fame, Bronx, New York
1990 National Master Entrepreneur of the Year, Ernst & Young LLP
1991 Top 100 Hispanics in the USA
1993 Boys and Girls Club of America Hall of Fame (Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club)
1998 Grand Prize Recipient — Mediterranean Institute of Cardiology
2003 Minnesota Business Hall of Fame
2006 Ellis Island Medal of Honor
2006 Living Legend of Medicine Award from the World Society of Cardiothoracic Surgeons

2010 Induction into the Minnesota Science and Technology Hall of Fame
2011 Patrick Cardinal Hayes Man of the Year
2016 Medical Design Excellence Awards (MDEA) Lifetime Achievement Award
2016 Minnesota Business Lifetime Achievement Award
2016 In Minnesota, October 27th is now “Manny Villafaña Day”
2017 Bronx Walk of Fame — honored by his hometown by having a street named “Dr. Manny Villafaña Street”
2022 LSI Lifetime Achievement Award for Medical Devices, Dana Point, CA

For his work in the medical field and his teaching/lectures at Harvard, Universities of Minnesota, Iowa, Notre Dame, Miami of Ohio, Stanford, Brown, St. Olaf, and others, Manny became a recipient of an Honorary Doctor of Science degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Iowa in 2014.

Manny: Master Entrepreneur

The master entrepreneur has led a remarkable career — starting from humble beginnings in the South Bronx, NY, to becoming a pioneer in the medical device industry.

Medical 21’s graft aims to advance the CABG procedure to help millions of patients worldwide. This technology is designed to eliminate blood vessel harvesting, which can reduce post-op pain and complications, allow previously unsuitable patients to receive life-saving surgery, and reduce operating time. All of this could lead to more surgeries and more lives saved.

The market size for an advancement like Medical 21’s is substantial — approximately $8 to $10 billion per year.

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