The New Brunswick Heart Centre is getting $250,000 from a private citizen.

John T. Clark, who had open-heart surgery at the centre five years ago, announced the donation at the Saint John Regional Hospital on Thursday.

It is the provincial program's first major private donation.

The money will be used for crucial heart research, said Dr. Marc Pelletier, chief of cardiac surgery and one of four surgeons at the centre.

There are now three researchers at the centre, he said.

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John T. Clark donated $250,000 to the New Brunswick Heart Centre on Thursday. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

"What they now need to do is get operating grants to be competitive on a national, international level in terms of their research grants," said Pelletier.

"And to do that, they need some seed money to have data, to have equipment that is used here to grow cells, to be able to analyze cells."

Clark, whose family owns the J Clark and Son Limited Cadillac, Chevrolet dealership in Fredericton, said when he needed surgery, he had the money to have it done at any hospital. But he chose the Saint John Regional.

"It was only an hour from home. So if anything went wrong, then we were going to be in familiar territory," he said.

"All my friends from different parts of the country, they couldn't understand why we were coming to Saint John. But I said, 'Look, it's world class and we're happy to go there.'"

While Clark was recovering, he decided he wanted to give back to the Heart Centre.

Dr. Keith Brunt is one of the researchers who will benefit from Clark's donation.

"Research funds like this are incredibly critical for us, integrating with the clinicians themselves. And that could be interacting with patients, collecting patient samples, but also taking our new ideas and our new therapeutic models into the clinic and clinical trials," he said.