The Mayo Clinic plans to name a new cardiovascular treatment center after the president of the United Arab Emirates, who since 1996 has given $25 million to the institution -- a gift that has not been disclosed previously.
The center, which occupies parts of four floors in two Mayo buildings in downtown Rochester, will be named the Mayo Clinic Zayed Cardiovascular Center, said Chris Gade, the clinic's vice chairman for communications. The dedication will take place next year, he said.
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, 86, a Mayo patient, has been the president of the UAE since its founding in 1971.
It is a federation of seven emirates, including Abu Dhabi, of which he is the ruler. He has been both criticized and praised by Jewish groups for supporting -- and later shutting down -- an anti-Semitic think thank.
His contribution to Mayo, made over eight years, is among its 10 largest gifts and is the largest the clinic has received from outside the United States, Gade said. The center will be the second to be named after a leader from the Middle East. Mayo has a nursing training program named for the late King Hussein of Jordan, who also was a donor.
In 1996, Sheikh Zayed underwent neck surgery at the Mayo Clinic and spent a month recovering in Rochester. During his visit, the sheikh pledged $25 million to Mayo Foundation to be paid over several years, with the last payment made in February, Gade said. The pledge had not been made public until the Star Tribune inquired about it.
"He recognized and he has told us directly that the money is really an expression of support for Mayo's mission to provide the finest medical care to current and future patients without regard to race or creed from all countries of the world," Gade said of Sheikh Zayed. "That was his specific language back in 1996."
The sheikh's only visit to Minnesota in 1996 made headlines partly because his entourage of 140 people purchased enough furniture, motor vehicles and other expensive goods to fill a cargo plane, according to news reports at the time. The sheikh separately donated funds to pay for treatment of four Mayo patients who were being treated at the time, Gade said.
Sheikh Zayed also has contributed money to other institutions, sometimes generating controversy.
In 1999, the sheikh helped fund the Zayed Centre for Coordination and Follow-up, a think tank in Abu Dhabi that soon drew criticism from around the world for anti-Semitic language on its Web site and speakers who promoted anti-Jewish and anti-American views.
The following year, the sheikh gave $2.5 million to Harvard Divinity School to create a professorship in Islamic studies in his name -- a gift that triggered further criticism from a Divinity School student and others. Harvard put the professorship on hold, and the sheikh later withdrew the gift with Harvard's blessing.
Amid all the controversy, however, Sheikh Zayed's government shut down the think tank, saying in August 2003 that it "starkly contradicted the principles of interfaith tolerance." The center's Web site also was closed.
That action by Sheikh Zayed earned him praise from one of the center's early critics: the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Los Angeles-based Jewish human rights organization dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust and promoting religious tolerance.
"Give the guy credit for what he did," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, "and the implications of what he did are not small. ... He is the only Arab head of state who has explicitly dealt with and condemned this sort of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism."
Gade said the Mayo Clinic researched the sheikh's positions on tolerance in the past year. He said the $25 million pledge wasn't announced in 1996 because Sheikh Zayed didn't want to draw attention to it. In general, contributions are made public based on the donor's wishes. No group has questioned Mayo's acceptance of the sheikh's gift, he added.
"From what we learned from knowing him as a person and also from the research that was done as part of this review, he really is a person who has routinely demonstrated visionary leadership for his country and really does espouse very strong humanistic values," Gade said. "... And he believes firmly that people should be treated with dignity and self-respect."
Gade said the sheikh has been treated since 1996 by Mayo physicians who traveled to his country.
In Rochester, patients already are being treated in the cardiovascular center that will bear the sheikh's name. The center is part of a broader effort at Mayo to put research, inpatient services, diagnostic tools and outpatient services in one place. When completed, the center will span two full floors and parts of two other floors in the adjoining Mayo and Gonda buildings.
Gade said the Mayo Clinic is still working on plans for the dedication, and a date has not been set. The dedication to Sheikh Zayed will be placed in the Mayo Building, he added.
Other U.S. institutions to accept the sheikh's money include Columbia University, which received $200,000 in 2000 to help fund a professorship in modern Arab studies and literature. Susan Brown, assistant vice president of public affairs for the university, said the purpose of the endowed chair "was the exact opposite of intolerance."
The United Arab Emirates' embassy in Washington didn't respond to requests for comment.