COOS BAY – A facility dedicated to cardiovascular health on the Southern Oregon coast will bear the name of the area’s most famous athlete.

Bay Area Hospital announced Friday that it will name its year-old Cardiovascular Services Center in honor of distance runner Steve Prefontaine, who died in 1975.

“The Prefontaine legacy perfectly epitomizes our mission to enhance cardiovascular health on the South Coast,” said Dr. Tom McAndrew, a Bay Area Health District board member.

The center opened last year. It features the area’s first cardiovascular catheterization laboratory – a state-of-the-art facility in which tubes and wires explore patients’ blood vessels to diagnose and treat heart problems.

Headed by Dr. Seth Giri, a board-certified interventional cardiologist, the “cath lab” recently completed its 500th procedure.

Linda Prefontaine said naming the center for her brother was a fitting tribute to his memory.

“I’m excited that they want to use him as an example of health and fitness,” she said.

Though “Pre” was famous for his intensely competitive running style, his sister said he was equally passionate about cardiovascular health.

“My brother was always promoting people to take care of their health,” she said. “He would set up programs for them. He would talk to them about quitting smoking.”

The announcement came during February’s observance of American Heart Month. The exact wording of the center’s name has not been decided, but hospital officials said the name will invoke Prefontaine’s memory to promote a healthier community.

“Improving cardiovascular health is a goal that must be pursued not only within the walls of this facility, but also throughout the community,” McAndrew said.

“We have to figure out a way to inspire the citizens, inspire our neighbors,” Giri said. “No other name more worthy than Steve Prefontaine comes to mind.”

Giri noted that Coos County has been ranked among Oregon’s least healthy. Naming the cardiovascular center after Steve Prefontaine reflects Bay Area Hospital’s desire to change that.

“If we can achieve half of what Pre achieved in his short but illustrious career, we will have made it golden,” Giri said.

Linda Prefontaine said her brother would be pleased by the honor if he were alive.

“Not only would he get behind it, he would support it and be involved,” she said. “He would be helping set up plans and programs.”