First Liver Transplant Surgeon, Thomas Starzl, Dies at 90

By Charles Omedo , Mar 06, 2017 12:02 AM EST

Officials and staff of both the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) are currently mourning the passing of Thomas Starzl. Dr. Starzl was the pioneer surgeon to first transplant livers into patients and also researched drugs that would make the body to accept new organ transplants. He died at his home on Saturday and was aged 90 years.

Brief account of Starzl's life and work

Thomas Starzl was born in LeMars, Iowa, on March 11, 1926. His father was a newspaper publisher and a science fiction writer, and his was mother was a local nurse. Frank Starzel, his late uncle, was the general manager of The Associated Press between 1948 and 1962. Starzl used to be a resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in the early 1950s where he helped with a liver surgery. Then he moved to the University of Colorado years later where he performed the first human liver transplant in 1963, CBS News reports.

His first two liver transplants were moderately successful, but the interference of the human immune system to reject newly implanted organs marred his works. Starzl later recorded about 40% success with his liver transplant surgeries in the late 1970s. He left the University of Colorado in the early 1980s and joined the University of Pittsburgh where he eventually spent over 30 active years. Here he led other surgeons to perform over 1,000 liver transplants with accurate successes. He retired from surgery at the age of 65 in September 1990 after he had himself undergone a heart bypass surgery that same year.

Colleagues and family commend the contributions of Starzl to humanity

Starzl is survived by Joy, a wife to whom he had remained married for 36 years. He also left behind a son, Timothy, and a grandchild. In 1992, he authored his memoir, "The Puzzle People: Memoirs of a Transplant Surgeon".

Colleagues and patients all mourn him and they all have good words about the man who saved their lives. University of Pittsburgh's Chancellor Emeritus, Mark A. Nordenberg tweeted that Starzl "became a hero to countless people." UPMC said he "was a man of unsurpassed intellect, passion and courage whose work opened up a new frontier in science and forever changed modern medicine." And his family wrote that "His work in neuroscience, metabolism, transplantation and immunology has brought life and hope to countless patients." The medical community and the whole world will miss Thomas Starzl sorely.

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