J. Nilas Young, MD
Founder & Medical Director

“I continue to represent Heart to Heart to my colleagues as an opportunity to make an international impact medically. The umbrella under which we operate has a complex humanitarian aspect: we help patients and their families, and we teach at the same time. We are also ambassadors of our profession and of American medicine.”


When Dr. Young was a second-year surgery resident, he had a conversation with a pediatric surgeon who had been involved in international aid. This doctor had been on several trips to South America, performing operations for two weeks and then leaving. The surgeon felt the U.S. teams did a lot of good, including some work with local physicians, but ultimately he didn’t feel he saw sustaining medical progress in the areas they visited. Almost 20 years later, when Dr. Young was preparing for Heart to Heart’s first medical mission to the Soviet Union, that conversation came back to him. His excitement about the trip – I can’t believe I am finally getting to do this – was coupled with resolve that, given the opportunity, he wouldn’t let the same thing happen: Heart to Heart’s visits would not be “fix and run.”

Dr. Young has led more than 30 Heart to Heart site assessment and surgical-educational missions. He has previously served both as Board Chairman and President, and continues to serve as the organization’s consummate spokesperson. As Medical Director he personally reviews surgical outcomes and program progress for each site.

Dr. Young is currently Professor & Chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. He served as the Program Director of the UCDMC Cardiothoracic Residency Program for a dozen years. He previously served on the Board of Directors of the American Heart Association, Sacramento Chapter. Dr. Young has been the recipient of numerous research grants, including a multi-year clinical study currently in progress, funded by the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Young has authored many articles and abstracts, and collaborated on, or contributed chapters to, many more. He is currently a peer reviewer for several thoracic surgery publications. He makes scientific presentations at symposia throughout North America, Russia and Peru. Read more about Dr. Young’s work at UC Davis Medical Center.

Dr. Young’s dedication and accomplishments have been honored by numerous medical and civic organizations that have granted him recognition and awards both in the U.S. and abroad. Most recently, Dr. Young was honored by the 2012 World of Children Health Award. He has been recognized for being a “changemaker who has dramatically improved the lives of children around the world” and for “innovating life-changing nonprofit initiatives benefitting the world’s most vulnerable children.” Click here to view a tribute video about Dr. Young’s work with Heart to Heart.